Friday, March 15, 2013

Jesus' Teaching on Fairness

[Read]  38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 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. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 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)

[Meditate]  This law is found in Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21.

"First, in Exodus 21:22-25, it is cited in a way that protected a pregnant woman and her child from death or injury that might occur if two men were in a fight.  Second, in Leviticus 24:17-22, it is applied generally to any case where a crime of murder or intentional maiming occurred. To me, this text is the most clear that for the judicial authorities, the law applied to both capital punishment and maiming punishments (Judges 1:6-7) to be carried out in kind... Third, in Deuteronomy 19:15-21, it occurs in a passage to prevent perjury and using the court to execute or punish an otherwise innocent individual."  -James Davis, "Jesus and the Law of Retaliation (Lex Talionis)," from

"Repay no one evil for evil… . Beloved do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord."  (Romans 12:17, 19)

"The law was not designed to be discharged by individuals swept up in personal vendetas, but by the judiciary."  -D.A. Carson, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, 52.

It's the same idea as with jail; you pay your time, punishment for what you've done.

It was also restrictive:

" was an excellent tool for eliminating blood feuds and intertribal warfare.  Suppose someone cuts off my brother's hand, and I go and knock off the assailant's head.  Immediately the initial violence has been escalated, and the assailant's family may feel honor-bound to butcher both me and my family.  Where then will it end?  But if, instead, the initial act of violence is met with reprisal in precisely the same kind and degree, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, that is the end of the matter."  -D.A. Carson, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, 52.

"The punishment must fit the crime – no more than the crime but also no less. It was strict but fair. It was also designed to prevent and deter such crimes. It was there to remove punitive actions for crimes from the hands of the victim and his family and put them into the hands of the governing judicial system. It was designed as a principle of proportional justice. It was also designed to appropriately punish the offender."  -James Davis, "Jesus and the Law of Retaliation (Lex Talionis)," from

"By Jesus' day, however, both of these fundamentals were frequently overlooked... The question then became, How far may my personal retaliation extend, without breaking the law?"  -D.A. Carson, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, 52.

Jesus is also concerned with the heart or the mindset:

"The misunderstanding of the law would say if someone slaps you on the cheek, slap him back (after all 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'). If someone sues you, sue him back. If you are forced to go a mile by a Roman soldier, resist and fight back. Jesus is trying to confront that type of teaching and mindset."  -James Davis, "Jesus and the Law of Retaliation (Lex Talionis)," from

39  "If you are right-handed, and you slap someone on the right cheek, what have you done? You have given them a backhanded slap. The Jews considered a backhanded slap twice as insulting as a slap with the palm of the hand... The Jewish Rabbis had a law based on oral tradition found in what is called the Mishnah that said you could seek restitution in court. The offending party would be required to pay 200 zuz (a monetary unit) for a fronthanded slap and 400 for a backhanded one. So in that culture, you could take him to court and sue him for insult."  -James Davis, "Jesus and the Law of Retaliation (Lex Talionis)," from

40  More from Davis:
"Now why would anyone want to sue someone for a piece of clothing? It is hard to understand this one without some Old Testament background, so let’s look at two passages.

The first is Exodus 22:25-27, which reads:

“If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest. 26 If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge [i.e. collateral] you shall return it to him before the sun goes down. 27 For that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin. What will he sleep in? And it will be that when he cries to Me, I will hear, for I am gracious” (Exodus 22:25-27).

The second is Deuteronomy 24:10-13:

“When you lend your brother anything, you shall not go into his house to get his pledge. 11 You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you lend shall bring the pledge out to you. 12 And if the man is poor, you shall not keep his pledge overnight. 13 You shall in any case return the pledge to him again when the sun goes down, that he may sleep in his own garment and bless you; and it shall be righteousness to you before the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 24:10-13).

Under the Old Testament borrowing laws, a poor person who borrowed money could provide a garment as a pledge or collateral to help ensure that he would pay the loan back. Normal practice at the time would be that people would wear a lighter inner tunic and also a heavier outer garment or cloak to be used in colder conditions. So why would a person give such a piece of clothing for collateral? Well, if he was really poor, that may be all that he had. But it gets awfully cold at night sometimes even in the desert depending on the time of year, so the Old Testament had a provision that required that the garment be returned to the poor person every night for warmth. So let’s say that the poor person took out a 30-day loan (loan time periods were much shorter back then). No interest would be charged and the pledge, the garment, would have to exchange hands between borrower and lender every day twice a day for 30 days. The lender was not allowed to go into the borrower’s house and had to return the garment every night. The borrower was to turn the garment back to the lender each morning until the loan was paid back.

But what if one of the parties violated one of these provisions? What if the lender came, stood outside the house, and asked for the garment and the borrower refused? What if the poor person felt rightly that the loan was already paid off and the exchange of garment was no longer required? This is where a lawsuit and court injunction might come into play, and the Pharisees had detailed rules for using the court system as the tool for dealing with the problem.

Jesus, however, has a bold and radical approach. “If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” He doesn’t say sue him back; He doesn’t say use the courts to prove you are correct; He doesn’t even say just go ahead rightly or wrongly and give him the garment. After all, Deuteronomy said if the one garment was returned according to the law, that was enough. But Jesus says give him BOTH garments! Amazing again."
41  Davis continues:
"The historical background to this situation is the Roman law that required an individual from a conquered country to carry a load or pack up to one mile on foot if asked by a Roman. It was compulsory service. It was not popular; it was hated; it was done grudgingly. The scribes and the Pharisees particularly despised these laws being used by the ruling powers. There is a New Testament example in Matthew 27:32 to carry a load, which was forced on Simon of Cyrene: “Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to carry His cross.”

To try to apply this to a modern situation, what would happen if the U.S. Ambassador in Iraq decided to pass laws that required Iraqi citizens to work for the U.S.-occupying troops? What if the Iraqis had to do things like dig ditches, carry equipment, clear rubble for limited duration, but all for no pay? I would expect a huge outcry of unfairness and probably more active widespread resistance.

Let’s be clear that many of the Jews despised the Roman occupation. In 66/67 A.D., they started a futile revolt only to be crushed and killed. The temple would be destroyed. Many of them wanted a Messiah like Judas Maccabeus who would overthrow the Roman occupation, set up Israel as an independent nation once again, and restore their national hopes. This must have made Jesus’ teaching on compulsory service all the more jarring and astonishing to His audience.

Now suppose a Roman soldier comes along and says carry my pack for a mile. What should you do?

1. Actively retaliate, physical retaliation in a likely futile attempt at combat?
2. Resist, verbally deny the request, and run like the dickens?

3. Comply with the request, meet the legal requirement, and go with him the mile, no more and no less? Maybe you mumble and complain the whole way.

4. Yet Jesus teaches none of these; He says “Go with him two.” Amazing a third time!

I ask this rhetorical question: “What might the response of the Roman soldier be who has just witnessed an unexpected and powerful testimony of Christian discipleship?” "
42  Davis' thoughts:
The Old Testament text of Deuteronomy 15:7-10 provides a good backdrop on Jesus’ teaching. It states:

“If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs… . 10 You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand” (Deuteronomy 15:7-10).

Now the Old Testament has a strong ethic of promoting loans and gifts to those in need. The scribes and Pharisees also did, but much of it was enveloped in a system of regulations and rules predicated on ensuring repayment. But going to Jesus’ teaching on this subject cited in Luke gives a little more information.

“And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:34-35).

The key phrase here is “hoping for nothing in return.” In other words, make the loan to the person in need, but expect nothing in return; if he can’t or doesn’t repay, consider it a gift! Don’t you get the feeling that Jesus would never be hired by a mortgage company?"

"I would like to close by pointing out and reflecting on the fact that Jesus lived out this teaching in His life. This is highlighted in several events in His arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

At the arrest, when Judas, one of the twelve, approaches with the Roman guard, Jesus doesn’t say, “You dirty rotten scoundrel, you traitor, you fiend.” Instead, He says, “Friend, why have you come?” Peter, however, is ready to resist. He pulls his sword out of the sheath to strike a blow and cuts off the ear of the slave of the high priest. But Jesus rebukes him by saying that those who live by the sword will die by the sword, and He heals the slave by restoring his ear. Jesus did not resist the evil person (Matthew 26:47-57).

Just before the trial, the soldiers come and strike him on the cheek with the palms of their hands mocking, “Prophesy who struck you” (Matthew 26:68). As Isaiah prophesied concerning Him, “I gave my back to those who struck me and my cheeks to those who plucked out my beard. I did not hide my face from shame and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6). Jesus literally turned His cheek to the smiter.

At His crucifixion, Jesus lets the soldiers take both of His garments. John writes:

Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. 24 They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots” (John 19:23-24).

He allowed both of His garments to be taken.

"Lastly, on the cross, people are hurling insults at Jesus. “If You are the Son of God,” “If You are the King, come down now from the cross and save Yourself.” However, instead of hurling an insult back, Jesus asks for a blessing for them by saying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34)."

See also Romans 12:14-21, 1 Corinthians 6.
[Pray]  This is a hard saying, Lord.  Help me to respond this way when the situations and times come.  Would my actions reflect or testify to who you are.  Would my heart be right before you such that it aligns with my actions.  Help me to be this kind of man, father.  In Jesus name, Amen.

[Live]  Personal retaliation is not my responsibility.  Instead, God wants me to respond with love outwardly and inwardly.


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