My favorite of the “eye for an eye” verses is Matthew 5:38. It reads as follows, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”. First, notice that Jesus says, “Ye have heard that it hath been said” not “ye have heard me say” which indicates that the source of the “eye for an eye” saying was from some source other than Jesus. At this time, Jesus is addressing a multitude of people so for him to say, “ye have heard”, whatever he is talking about is something that the people were familiar with or had been exposed to at some time whether it be Hammurabi’s code, tradition or well-traveled gossip.
This is where it gets good. In the very next verse Jesus says, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”. Jesus makes it clear that what he is about to say is in contrast with what the people are familiar with or what was typical (retaliation) by saying three simple words, “But I say”.
So, that “resist not evil” part seems a little odd. I mean Jesus wants me to resist evil right? True. Though again, I must consider the context. Considering the context of Jesus’ character and what he has said in the past, I know this cannot be all there is to understand about this text. Taking that tiny little part by itself makes it sound as if I am supposed to accept evil as opposed to reject it but in context of the whole verse, it means do not be so quick to run away, stand firm so you can exemplify the character of Jesus. After all, Jesus may have been meek but he was not weak! He did not run from the men possessed by demons, he stood firm yet showed compassion for the men by casting out their demons. Let me bring the example a little closer to home. Take our hardened and angry school-aged youth for example. In my experience (USA) teachers are usually not very well-respected by the students (especially in public, city schools) and because of the contention, many teachers disregard, dismiss or just plain give up on the students. However, there are some teachers that take on the challenge and form relationships with these students that change the students’ outlook and help them realize their worth and potential so they can make the most of their collective futures (see To Sir, with Love; Dangerous Minds and “Blackboard Wars” for reference). I believe that is what I am to do when I am faced with tough stuff. Of course, if it is too much to handle, I think I would say a quick prayer and split the scene.
What I like most about Matthew 5:38-39 is how verse 38 is often cited as saying “an eye for an eye” but the very next verse says, “turn the other cheek”. Seriously?! Why in the world would Jesus want us to retaliate against someone who has wronged us then tell us not to with the next breath? I realized the silliness and sadness of this when I started studying these verses. Amazing. It just reaffirms the need to read for myself and in context. Almost half of chapter 5 is even set up in the same “ye have heard…but I say unto you” format (check it out)! I do not think “turn the other cheek” means to accept abuse by the way. It just means that I should not get so easily offended or riled up. Some things I have to let slide for the sake of being Christ-like and I am fine with that. It is not the easiest thing to do but I am a laid-back, non-confrontational sort anyway, so it is not terribly difficult for me to do.
In my effort to read the Bible through, I just finished Matthew. It is only twenty-eight chapters and it is packed full of many of the Bible stories I had heard many times before but I learned so much in reading for myself and encourage others to do the same. I am finished with this “eye for an eye” mini-series and I am glad I can share what I have learned. Of course, there is much more for me to learn but at the very least I hope this promotes discussion about reading and understanding the Bible.