Bible Reading: Matthew 5:27-48 (Devotional Commentary link)
There was a law in the days of Jesus called, “lex talionis”…the law of retaliation. Basically, it taught that whatever someone did to you, you had the right to do back to them to the same degree or extent to which they had done it to you…but no more. Originally, the intent had been to keep people from reacting excessively when someone did something to them. However, people had begun to interpret it to mean that not only did they have the right to hurt them in the same way that they had been hurt…it was almost an expectation that they do so. “You punched me in the eye. Well, get ready, because if I don’t punch you in the eye, people will think that I’m a wimp. I’ve got to do it. Anyway, it’s the law.”
Jesus taught a different way to react. Take control of the situation. Calm things down. Take a deep breath and count to ten. Don’t allow your emotions to dictate how you respond. Instead, try to diffuse the situation by allowing the person some degree of satisfaction with what they had already done. Don’t react hastily, emotionally…and do something that will only cause actions to continue to escalate.
Hopefully, your response will have as much of an affect on the other person as their original action could have had on you. They will see that you have no intention of retaliating…and understand that to be a sign of inner strength, of self-control. And, this will give their emotions just enough breathing room…that they can relax. Then you may have the opportunity to turn this wicked incident into a witnessing incident. You can tell them about God’s love and how He has transformed your life and that He desires to do the same for them.
Now, it is important for us to understand that Jesus is not telling us to be the proverbial punching bag. Just letting people to continue to mistreat us, or to abuse us. No. That is not allowed. Notice two things. First, He only tells us to allow the situation to continue one more step…not time, and time, again. I remember my Pastor from High School saying, “I’ve only got two cheeks!” And second, none of these three instances are life-threatening. That is not what He is talking about, here. Not even the slap to the face. Obviously, no one would like to be punched in the face. But most theologians don’t see this as a clenched fist punch. Instead, this was actually a slap that signified something of a challenge. It was an insult…not a death threat. In a situation where there is the potential for abuse, or physical harm, or a threat to life, the Christian has the right to defend himself. That is one of the reasons why God established government…to provide protection for its citizens. The Christian has the right to seek that protection and to protect himself.
Thoughts about God for My Grandkids:
Road rage! It’s a pretty common story on the news, these days. Someone pulls his car right in front of another person. Cuts him off. The second person jumps out of his car and runs up to the other car. He’s waving his arms, and jumping up and down, and shouting at the other person…yelling that he’s going to beat him up. The other guy gets out of his car and starts yelling back. The next thing you know…they’re fighting, punching and kicking each other. Then, one of the men reaches into his pocket and pulls out a gun. He points it and shoots the other man. Hopefully, it stops there and the man lives. But sadly, they may both go to jail. Why? Road rage. They did not control their emotions.
Did you know that Jesus talked about road rage? Well, kind of. I’m not talking about someone getting run over by a chariot. He told three stories that deal with the same kind of emotions that people have during road rage.
- The first was about a man who slaps another man on the face.
- The second was about a man who took another man to court to sue him and take away his shirt.
- The third was about a soldier who made a man carry his backpack a mile down the road. In those days, the law said that a soldier had the right to do that.
In each instance, Jesus basically tells us to not let our emotions go crazy, to get so angry that we do to the other person, what they did to us. Don’t react that way. No road rage.
That wasn’t the way many people reacted in Jesus’ day. In fact, most people said that if someone punches you in the eye…punch him back in his eye. And if someone clobbers you in the mouth…clobber him back in his mouth! Road rage!
But Jesus taught a different way to react. He said…
- If a man slaps you on the face…turn your face and let him slap you on the other side.
- If a man sues you for your shirt…offer him your coat, as well.
- If a soldier demands that you carry his backpack for a mile…carry it for two miles.
What??? What is He trying to teach us? He is teaching us to not allow someone else to determine how we act, or react. No road rage. Why would He teach that? Two reasons. One, when we react to their bad behavior with our own bad behavior…it’s just going to continue back and forth, and get even worse. Second, when we are in control of how we act…it gives us an opportunity to tell them why we act that way. And that is Jesus.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that we should just let this go on and on…let the man slap me over and over. No, that’s not what He means. He is making a point, here. He wants us to keep control of our emotions and not let other people control how we act. And hopefully, when we do that, it will bring an end to their bad behavior. However, if they don’t stop and try to hurt you again…then you have the right to defend yourself. But even then, don’t let their bad behavior determine what you do. Keep control of your emotions. No road rage.
Love you more than bunches and bunches,