Hi Jim, I’m familiar with the verses below. Does this mean that we allow ourselves to be a battered Christian? What are the meaning of these verses in a different perspective? Pepe
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:39
If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Luke 6:29
A very excellent question. The Christian morality that has been built upon what’s called The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) has plagued millions of people the world over for centuries with religious ideals that are commonly thrown around … but almost always with a sense of judgment for not measuring up. Many sense a basic niceness behind Jesus’ so-called principles, but most who stand upon them are afraid to express their doubts and reservations as to exactly how far do we take these commands, if that’s what they are.
Our real problems with Jesus’ statements arise from having accepted a religious alternative to Christ’s reality. Religion reinterprets Jesus’ words as a moral code of conduct it calls Christianity, but Christ brought life from the dead. His words all fit in expressing the difference between the false religion built upon the Law of Moses handed down to them and the need for the life they could not achieve.
I have quite a bit written on this chapter in the Q&A section, but I think it’s probably difficult to find so I am creating a new category called The Sermon on the Mount in which to sort any I can find. As usual, I give a lot of contextual background to any verse in question so that any question in this section - especially the one on Matthew 5:17-20 - will provide a lot of understanding to the whole chapter. You will find those articles here.
But I don’t think I have addressed this particular verse so I will throw some thoughts out here, but I’m assuming you’ll read the other posts to fill in many of the blanks that may be left in this one.
You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42
Jesus did not preach little pieces of morality so that it could be passed down as was the law of Moses. In this section, each of what we consider Christian commands were preceded by a well-known OT Scriptural command. You have HEARD that it was said. Guess who they had heard it from? Yep, the religious leaders: Scribes, Pharisees, Sadduccees, Priests and Rabbis (some of those are redundant titles held by one person, so that a Pharisee could also be a Rabbi, etc).
If you follow the whole chapter you will see how each You have heard it said, is shortly followed by But I say to you, This is very important to recognize because you can be sure those who heard him immediately sensed the rebukes aimed at the leadership they had always assumed as being of God. In other words, everything Jesus said here was connected to the total disregard of the very law as preached by their leaders.
If you could step into the shoes of the common people you would have sensed Jesus’ constant demand: How is it that you so accurately quote the writings you want to quote and yet totally overlook the most important realities written in the book you quote? In these verses he says, This is what they have told you about what was written, but I tell you that they have missed the reality of God in the Scriptures!
Take a look at the progression of the specific things they had HEARD from their religious leaders:
YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER
The people had heard the Scripturally righteous sounding judgments pronounced against murderers by those who were supposedly innocent of the crime, but nothing about the fact that God would hold the murderous heart to the same judgment.
YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY
The people were inundated with the righteous sense of shame upon those who violated their marital vows of sexuality, but nothing about the hidden lust of those who boasted of their appearance sexual purity.
WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE
Oh yes, the religious leaders made sure to quote Moses’ permission regarding the scripturally correct way to get rid of one’s wife as it was apparently a common loophole taken by many of those men. But those divorced men who stood upon their adherence to the law would not have mentioned one word about the legal ramifications that a wife put away for any other reason than adultery was being forced into becoming an adulteress.
YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD
The people would have heard much about fulfilling vows to the Lord in the same way we have heard it preached from the pulpit by those are supposedly doing the Lord’s work. But would they have heard that an oath had no power to change the hypocritical heart of those who boasted in their own false vows? Not a chance.
AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH
The people were used to hearing words of God preached to them by those who only saw themselves as victims in need of retribution. But did they hear anything about the multitude of scriptures where God showed MERCY to the guilty? The picture of turning the other check, etc is that of a heart that does not seek retribution but leaves God’s work up to God. If they had really been hearing the true preaching of the scriptures they would have also heard that God had also said,
VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY, Deuteronomy 32:35
IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, GIVE HIM FOOD TO EAT; AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM WATER TO DRINK; Proverbs 25:21
YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy
The first part of the common teaching they heard is a direct quote, the second is inferred by the many scriptural judgments against their so-called enemies, but once again, they would have heard nothing about the overwhelming evidence of God’s heart toward those who were Israel’s enemies. In their supposed adherence to God’s Written Will they had ignored the very heart of God and instead were treating others in the same way as their enemies did.
The but I say to you statements of Jesus were not being offered as some kind of new fix to the hypocrisy of their false religious morality. Instead, they were spoken to reveal the self-imposed ignorance of those who preached their own versions of scriptural law-keeping. In other words, we can never fulfill Jesus’ words by trying to live up to them because we only end up justifying ourselves by whatever portion we think we have achieved.
The things Jesus said about turning the other check has to do with a matter of the heart. The practice of living according to rules in order to bring about change, even that of trying to turn the other check, only causes the exact same blindness of heart that held Israel in bondage. If we want proof of the misunderstanding we have of Jesus’ statements all we have to do is notice the legal system we have built around them.
This is why we don’t need Jesus’ new rules but instead we simply need JESUS. For what he has done has broken that bondage because he has cut out the old heart (which is the hypocritical life) and has given us a new one through having died and raised in newness of life.