I have wrestled with this post for over a month now having written and re-written more times than I care to remember. Trying to sum this up into a few words has been almost impossible, but I can’t seem to drop it so here we go.
I was reading through the book of Exodus and got stuck on chapter 21, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot…” This is not generally a popular verse in the Bible, namely because Jesus seems to correct this passage in the New Testament when He told us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-42). For me, turning the other cheek is easy, but not because I am necessarily gracious, but because its convenient. I am not so much into confrontation, while others seem to live for it. So while turning the other cheek for some comes naturally, it completely misses the essence of what Jesus is trying to say.
In the law, “eye for an eye” has an element of grace to it. If you spend some time reading the events of the Bible leading up to this, you will see a lot of stories that seem to have come out of an old western movie. There are examples of entire villages being wiped out because one person wronged another, and it wouldn’t have stopped at just the events the Bible recorded–it’s crazy to think these were isolated incidents. “Eye for an eye” in the context of the law is not a justification for retaliation, but rather a limitation of punishment. As though the law were saying, ‘you cannot demand of someone else more than what was taken from you.’ In light of this, most would not have a problem with this passage–most live right here in the world of “eye-for-an-eye” without realizing it or seeing ourselves as doing wrong.
This is why I believe we lose the power of what Jesus actually said in the New Testament. Most of us would find it hard to limit our reaction to the level of the offense. There will always be a push for others to feel our pain, to fully experience the extent of what they did to us.
I reckon Jesus, knowing this said, “you have heard it said ‘eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth’ But I tell you not to 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 away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles”*. I believe this links in with the “parable of the unmerciful servant“ in Matthew 18. Here we see the story of a man who owed a king a great debt and was unable to repay it. The king ordered that he, his family and his belongings be sold to meet the debt. The man cried out for mercy, and the king, moved with compassion, forgave the debt in full. No sooner had the man left when he spotted one of his co-workers who owed him a minuscule debt. He demanded to be repaid and when his co-worker could not, he had his co-worker thrown in prison. Word got back to the king. Furious at the man’s lack of mercy, he held the man to his debt, handing him over to the jailers until the debt could be repaid.
Maybe Jesus is actually challenging us on the fact that as we have received such an incredible grace, what is there that we could ask of someone else – to make up for their wrongs – that would compare to the grace already given us?
It’s as though Jesus were saying “You have heard it said ‘as those who identify themselves as recipients of God’s love, kindness and grace, don’t demand more of someone else that what was taken from you. But I tell you this, In recognition of that grace, don’t take anything at all, just trust God and let it slide. And if someone, who is well within their rights and has not had this revelation of grace, tries to take from you, don’t disregard or put your revelation on them. Trust God all the more, give them more than what they deserve or what’s required, and watch as He reveals Himself through you.”
Maybe you’re like me–I can be reasonable and think I’m being righteous in doing so. Eye for eye, I’m not after any more than that. I just want what’s right. right? And when I screw up, I am big enough to admit my fault and try to make up for what I did wrong. All the while, I’m completely losing perspective. The more I push for what seems fair and right, the more I completely lose the point of what Jesus did, what grace actually cost and the part I play having been given grace.
If you and I look at what we have been given through grace, there is nothing we can get from anyone else that would come close to what we have already received. Grace gives everything and demands nothing. Unlimited by our understanding, grace doesn’t need to receive grace to be able to give it–grace is always prepared to carry the cost when no one else is and grace will do it over and over again.
When we begin to catch this revelation of grace, things around us begin to change. Complaining doesn’t make sense, comparisons become far more effort than they are worth, and what we think we deserve – what the world owes us – becomes shallow and meaningless. Our entitlements become lost in the light of grace and what we’re left with is a recognition of who Jesus is and what He has done. Out of the grace we have, we find what we need to love others.
* Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV)