Have you ever noticed that there are times when Scripture passages seem to contradict each other, leaving us a little confused?
Like the teaching about being the “salt of the earth” and shining like a light when it comes to our faith. But, on the other hand, we are urged to go into our room and pray to our Father in heaven quietly and alone, so as not to be seen by others.
Head scratcher, for sure.
(And yes, we will explain the monkey picture).
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”
So, if we get sued for something, we should not fight? Give in, give it up and then give them a bonus?
That seems odd to hear, especially since much is also written about seeking justice on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves for one reason or another. There are stories where we are asked to protect the weak, the poor, the widows who have no justice.
And yet, here we are told not to fight for justice, but to allow ourselves to be part of something that may be frivolous.
It made me think of some of our crazy litigation in America – the McDonald’s restaurant that was sued because a woman spilled hot coffee in her lap. (Maybe McD’s should have listened to Jesus … news reports indicated they had a chance to settle the case relatively cheaply at first; but they chose to take it to court, where they lost quite a bit more).
My current favorite is the lawsuit filed on behalf of a monkey who had taken his own selfie with a photographer’s camera it had stolen (see picture above). That lawsuit was brought forth by PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals … (I could do a whole ‘nother reflection on them, but that’s for a ‘nother time).
Applying the teaching today, the photographer should give PETA what they want and then double it and give it to the monkey – who would probably just tear it to pieces.
So what is this teaching all about?
This text from Matthew is bunched together with a few other tough teachings, such as a hard line on what the word adultery can actually apply to; and then there’s whole “love thy enemy” thing … really?
Jesus is setting the tone for a new set of rules, a new ethic to live by.
It has to do with Christians adopting a “higher righteousness” … the ability to rise above the petty problems, the silly quibbles and quarrels.
He told this to an audience that had the classic “eye for an eye” mentality. In our current state of justice, a lot of that kind of logic still exists (as it pertains to a judge or jury’s quest to be fair), but we certainly don’t pluck out any eyeballs any more.
Originally, when that principle came along, it was a good thing. “Eye for an eye” was meant to stop an over-retaliation against someone who had done wrong against you. In a way, it was regulating revenge.
In our so-called enlightened age, the notion of seeking revenge is seen as a bad thing, not to be condoned by a civilized people. But it still happens … we know it does.
Jesus teaches us today that we have a choice. We don’t have to do what everyone else does. We are called to rise above … so, we must struggle to find a way to accept that life is not perfect and neither are we.
Injustice will come our way, and often does as our Church and her people have seen and experienced in sometimes brutal ways over the years.
Our goal – when it comes to justice – shouldn’t always be to file a lawsuit or to press charges against those who have harmed us.
Instead, our goal should be to shame our opponents with kindness and generosity. Shame them into having a change of heart.
Above all else, we should be praying for our persecutors, our enemies … that they will seek forgiveness, offer recompense and beg for God’s mercy.
And that is not a frivolous thing!