There aren't too many of us who haven't heard the teaching of "turning the other cheek" whenever someone wrongs you - like we needed to actually be hit twice! Yet, in the breadth of this teaching, Jesus is really laying out the path he will walk during the next several years of his teaching ministry - continually allowing the criticism, forgiving the hateful words of others, and refusing to strike back when deliberately opposed by those who would seek to shut down his ministry on this earth. Back in the Old Testament, there was a practice set up in the Law which allowed for this "eye for an eye" kind of thing to occur. For example, if a man killed your donkey he was to restore it and something extra in return. In making restoration of the one thing which was lost also to make some type of restitution for the lost item. Steal from someone and you had to not only repay what you stole, but a portion more. Maybe God was trying to help us see the connection between sin and it "costing" us something. Or maybe he was just trying to help us see the distress sin brings into our lives. It doesn't really matter why he established those rules, because Jesus is about to blow the minds of those listening to his sermon when he tells them they should turn the other cheek, give a coat to one who steals your shirt, and hate our enemies! A totally radical thought for a generation who had grown up under the Law!
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, don’t fight back against someone who wants to do harm to you. If they hit you on the right cheek, let them hit the other cheek too. If anyone wants to sue you in court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. If a soldier forces you to walk with him one mile, go with him two. Give to anyone who asks you for something. Don’t refuse to give to anyone who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies. Pray for those who treat you badly. If you do this, you will be children who are truly like your Father in heaven. He lets the sun rise for all people, whether they are good or bad. He sends rain to those who do right and to those who do wrong. If you love only those who love you, why should you get a reward for that? Even the tax collectors do that. And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than anyone else. Even the people who don’t know God are nice to their friends. What I am saying is that you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48 ERV)
A couple of pretty important relationship principles are being taught by Jesus - those which he would demonstrate in his own life over the next couple of years as he made his way around the cities preaching and teaching to those who came with curious hearts. Here are a but a couple:
- Give more than you are asked to give. Most of us understand what it is to have some kind of "debt" we might own. When we go to the grocer we fill up our baskets and then head to the checkout. At the checkout, the clerk rings up the total bill for all of the items in the cart. This becomes a debt we must pay if we are to remove these groceries from the store. Until the debt is settled, we are not free to roll that cart out to the car and make our way home with those delectable treats. We "get" that we have to pay for what we put in the basket, but how many of us actually would think to give the grocer another ten dollars at the end of the transaction, just because we wanted to give something to recompense the grocer for the debt we incurred? I daresay we'd point out if we were over-charged, but to actually leave more than what we owed - not! I think this is a principle mom and dad tried to teach me, and I have tried to pass it on to my children and grandchildren, as well. What can we do which is just a little more than what we are asked to do? It may not be much, but if we always just go through life giving exactly what we are asked to give and never any more, we will live kind of empty lives. Learning to bless another is our focus here. We need to see the "value" in giving - sacrificially - not just when something is demanded of us.
- Partiality is not going to serve anyone well. In the time of Christ, there were "systems" of people - some might call them "casts" - some more affluent and "honored" than others, while others were looked down on because of disease, poverty, or the like. The idea of God allowing the sun to shine on the rich and the poor, the diseased and the well, etc., is Jesus' way of reminding us that no one sticks out as the "shining star" in God's eyes. All are equal - all receive the same attention, privilege, and honor in his eyes. Neither money nor poverty impact how he thinks about us. Neither good looks or plainness impress him. His is an attitude of grace and acceptance of all who turn his way. The religious leaders of the day had a hard time with this one - especially when Jesus modeled it by hanging out with tax collectors, prostitutes, and then came into the synagogue to teach a lesson or two on the Sabbath. It just wasn't in their "system of beliefs" to be lacking in this "social partiality". But...it was not Jesus' intention to win a popularity contest - it was his intention to embrace all of mankind with his grace and love! We'd do well to model this behavior in our own lives.
- Love sometimes doesn't get returned in the way we might expect it to be returned. This kind of goes back to the idea of us thinking there should be "compensation" for what it is we "bring" into the relationship. Jesus didn't just go to those who accepted his teaching and warmly embraced him. He stood in the crowds of naysayers and those who out-rightly opposed him. He helped the widows and the captains of the armies - both with nothing to give back to him. He opened the eyes of the blind and made the withered arms straight - some never even looking back to say thank you for the tremendous reward of being made whole again. Learning to give "into" a relationship without expecting something "from" it might just the hardest lesson for us to grasp from this teaching, because love just yearns to be returned in some manner. Jesus yearned for a return of his love from those he touched - he didn't demand it, though. It was a "condition" for him to love us - he just loved, and loved, and kept on loving - not waiting for a return of that love. Yep, probably the hardest lesson of the three for us to fully grasp, but probably one of the most important! Just sayin!