“He needs to pay for what he did…” she said almost under her breath. Others in the room nodded in agreement. I just sat there dumbfounded. This was a very difficult counseling session about 15 years ago concerning a young adult man who had inappropriately touched a 17 year-old girl after taking her home from youth group.
What he did was a very wrong and foolish thing and, yes, it needed to be “dealt with” appropriately…but that’s not what was going on here. This was an angry lynch mob looking for a pound of flesh. And these people were “mature” Christians!
I should also mention, the girl and young man were related by marriage, which added another layer to the drama.
What this was revealing was a deep-seated need for revenge. As believers, this also reveals glaring cognitive dissonance—ignoring Jesus’ teachings while thinking we’re serving Him. It’s the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matt.5:20).
Jesus’ teachings we don’t really believe
Following Jesus forces us to confront and change our thinking (called repentance) and go totally counter-cultural in our response to wrongs done to us. But we generally don’t do what we really don’t believe. And we really don’t believe this particular teaching of Jesus:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. (Matt.5:38-42 *)
This is one passage we ignore or dismiss as too unrealistic. Jesus didn’t really mean that, did He? Well, He did, and when we don’t follow His teachings, we’re not following Him, so we suffer the consequences (Matt.7:26-27).
Here are the main points of the passage:
When the Law said, “an eye for an eye…” (Lev.24:17-21; Deut.19:14-21), it was actually a restraint on violent retaliation. It was common at the time to go way overboard to avenge wrongs. For instance, Lamech said…”If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” (Gen.4:23-24). But from our perspective today, Jesus is telling us that Lamech had issues!
Offering “the other cheek” is not talking about being a doormat for abuse. It’s dealing with our perverse need for retaliation and with stopping the escalation of violence. When someone slaps you and you don’t return the favor, it creates a “hostility vacuum,” where the offender automatically senses that they’ve gone too far. A healthy person will apologize and the hostility ends.
Jesus is revealing a systemic problem in us: we hate grace! We would rather turn somebody else’s cheek!
“Going the extra mile” speaks of our willingness to go “beyond the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees,” which includes showing grace where none has been afforded us. I will do the right thing regardless of how I’m treated by others. This is what other-centered, self-giving love looks like.
Finally, we can show this grace toward others because we understand the perpetrator is blind and broken just like us, and what Jesus meant when He said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” But the question God is asking us is, do we know what we do? I don’t think we really do.
The escalation of retaliatory violence is the norm in our culture. Gangs “hit back” at what’s done to them so they don’t appear weak. And nations aren’t much different. I remember the orgy of revenge we all had against Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attack. Even we Christians seemed drunk on the dregs of bloody violence and retaliation. The spirit of murder and hate wasn’t just running rampant in our culture, but also in our churches. Not that he wasn’t a criminal who should be removed from society, but it revealed something dark and sinister in us (We will look at “enemy hatred” next time).
Theologian, Walter Wink, coined the term: “The myth of redemptive violence.” And this is one BIG myth! History should’ve taught us that retaliation never solved anything, it only perpetuates it.
Will we let Jesus deal with our “iceberg” with this issue?
12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Heb.4:12 NLT *)
Beloved, regardless of what you think spiritual maturity is, letting God expose these things in you is what following Jesus actually looks like. Let’s not deceive ourselves; the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Gal.5:22-23).
And it should be instructive to us what’s not on this list.