“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
(Matthew 5:38-42 NIV)
Jesus began His re-defining of righteousness with sins His disciples would clearly know and understand – murder and adultery. The emphasis was on the one sinning, not on the one being sinned against.
Jesus then moves on to agreements between parties – oaths (solemn promises, verbal contracts). In this illustration, Jesus moves from the emphasis on the sinner to both parties being equal and consensual to the promises being made.
Jesus now continues with His fourth example of hyper-righteousness – the law of reciprocity. In this illustration, the emphasis is on the one being sinned against. God’s Law called for equal and reciprocal punishment to the lawbreaker for personal injury done to the victim during the commission of a crime (Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21 ). The lawbreaker deserves to get what they inflict on others.
Life in Old Testament times were hard. God’s Laws were given to the Jewish nation to protect one another, and render fair and equal justice for crimes committed. God’s Laws were still in effect when Jesus was on the earth, and were still taught and enforced within the Jewish nation, so everyone knew the standard, and the consequences for committing a crime.
So in this new uber-righteousness, does Jesus require more of the lawbreaker than what they deserve?
In fact, He tells His disciples to require less.
Jesus is telling His disciples that the way to heaven is not reciprocity, but mercy. If God’s mercy were not in place, we would all be dead! But thankfully, His mercies are new every morning. Jeremiah reminds us of this as he writes:
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions [mercies] never fail.
They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
(Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV, bracketed text mine)
So Jesus tells us to show mercy to others as God has shown mercy to us. What does this look like, in practical terms?
- If someone deliberately hurts you, don’t hurt back (physically, verbally, or otherwise).
- If someone sues you, give them the shirt off your back, and your coat as well, without complaining.
- If your boss makes you do something not in your job description once, do it twice, with a good attitude.
- Be gracious and help someone out if they ask, with your money, time, skills, expertise, etc.
- If someone asks to borrow something, be willing to share, and don’t require it be returned.
If examples of this kind of living were made into a TV reality show, we would have to call it something like “Extreme Mercy – Selfless Edition”. Hmmm… probably not a hit in the ratings race.
Jesus’ teaching flies in the face of today’s headlines:
- “I have my rights…”
- “I deserve better…”
- “That’s not fair – I didn’t get my…”
Whatever mercy we show to others, God has shown orders of magnitude more mercy to us. Jesus gave His life for us – the ultimate act of mercy for us as undeserving enemies of God. How can we respond in any other way than mercy when wronged, when He has given His all for us, and not demanded reciprocity – our life for His?
What are your examples of practicing mercy to others who don’t deserve it?