Matthew 5:38-48 (NIV) 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.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbors and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
These eleven verses contain some of the “hardest” sayings of Jesus found in the New Testament. They are not “hard” in the sense that they can’t be understood, but they are “hard” in the sense that they are so difficult to live by. Jesus commentary on the act of retaliation (vs. 38-40), to generosity (vs. 41-42) and the extent to which one must love (vs. 43-47) are so contrary to my human nature, that I want to quickly set these sayings aside and move on to Jesus’ other words of comfort, reassurance and love (for example, the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount earlier in this chapter).
However, we can’t simply set these verses aside, no matter how uncomfortable they may be to us. When I think about retaliation, the recent conflict with ISIS comes immediately to my mind. What is the Christian response to that situation? The human side of me wants retaliation. I am guilty. Regarding generosity … every day I pass homeless on street corners and yet fail to take action. Guilty again. Finally, what about our Christian duty to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you”? I can honestly say, that topic is not on my regular prayer list. Guilty again.
Any time I start to get too comfortable with my personal worthiness for all that Jesus has done for me, I consider these verses and how high Jesus’ standards of Christian behavior really are. It reminds me how I always fall woefully short of the mark … guilty of sins of both commission and omission. I am ever thankful to God for the gift of his Son and his Grace in my life.
Blessings, John H