An eye for an eye? (Matthew 5:38-48)

‘‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

If statistics are to be believed, the majority of people in the UK are in favour of the death penalty (between 50 and 75% in poll results I’ve seen).  Retributive justice still appeals to many people: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life.

At some levels the idea of retributive justice makes sense: if I stole ten pounds from you, it would seem only right that ten pounds was taken from me and given back to you.  Everyone is placed back in their previous position before any wrongdoing occurred.

When something terrible happens, who would not want to return everything to the way it was before?

But if you’ve lost an eye, no amount of eyes will give you yours back.  No amount of teeth will return your tooth; no amount of lives the life of one you love.  Nothing we can do can turn the clock back or reverse history.

It is the great Christian hope that one day all wrongs will be made right; all ills healed; all enemies reconciled; every tear of grief wiped away; death itself defeated.  Our hope is that God will complete this work through His Son Jesus Christ; the great work that Jesus has  already started; the work we call the Resurrection.

Our hope is that this will be no simple return to how things were before – our broken teeth made whole, our blinded eyes restored, our wounds patched up and us sent on our way.  The hope of the Resurrection is much greater than that: seeing God face-to-face, and dwelling in His presence sustained by His great Love.

We believe that this great work was begun in the life, death and return to life – Resurrection – of the one we call Jesus Christ.  We don’t know when this work begun in Him will finally be completed.  But until that day we are told to love those who persecute us; bless those who curse us; to return evil not with further evil, but with good, not to seek retribution against those who wrong us.

For just as the rain falls without discrimination on everyone, whether good or evil, so the Love of Jesus, God’s own Love, is given to all.  And we are called to do the same.