I remember studying today’s Gospel passage all the way back in high school – my sophomore year spring semester New Testament class, to be exact.
We obviously spent a lot of time studying the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus’ pinnacle teaching in the Gospel according to Matthew, in which He taught the disciples (and, by extension, us) on a number of different things.
While I don’t remember every single word that poured forth from my teacher’s mouth that semester, I do remember spending a lot of time on today’s Gospel – the Teaching About Retaliation.
Any modern-day interpretation of this passage is just downright strange and a little otherworldly. If you get slapped across the cheek, offer the other side as well? No thanks, hard pass. Why would anyone willingly offer to get slapped once, let alone twice? The other examples that Jesus offers, like someone suing for a cloak and then also handing over a tunic, just make things even weirder.
The teachings were pretty countercultural at the time, too. Remember, the Jewish people followed the law given to them by Moses. Their law said, “‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’” meaning that if someone plucked out your eye, you got to pluck out their eye as punishment in return.
If you read the footnote for this passage, it says, “The Old Testament commandment was meant to moderate vengeance; the punishment should not exceed the injury done. Jesus forbids even this proportionate retaliation.”
Let’s pause and take that last statement in. Jesus doesn’t want “even this proportionate retaliation” and He certainly doesn’t want retaliation that goes above and beyond the initial hurt or injury. That must mean He doesn’t want us to retaliate AT ALL. Hence offering the other cheek or the tunic as well, the exact opposite of retaliation.
What I think this passage offers to us today is the opportunity to reflect on how we respond when we are hurt by another person, no matter what kind of hurt it is. While we may not yet be up to the level of offering our other cheek, are we at least “slow to anger and abounding in mercy” (Psalm 145:8), remembering that our heavenly Father does the same for us when we hurt Him as the result of our sin? Or do we answer with a sharp tongue and lash out with our hurt feelings?
After a moment of reflection, do not be afraid to ask the Lord to work within you, to invite Him into those moments of hurt and to guide your response in those moments.
Erin Madden is a Cleveland native and graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is passionate about the Lord Jesus, all things college sports and telling stories and she is blessed enough to get paid for all three of her passions. You can catch her on old episodes of the Clarence & Peter Podcast on YouTube as well as follow her on Twitter@erinmadden2016.
Feature Image Credit: Amanda Dalbjorn, https://unsplash.com/photos/UbJMy92p8wk