My Thoughts. . .
Most Bible students are familiar with Jesus’ statement,
“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 one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:38-41).
Some will jokingly state, “If a person hits me on one cheek, I’ll turn the other to him. But once he has struck that cheek, if he hits me a third time, he is going down.” We may find that remark humorous but contradictory. Why? Jesus does not add that alternative to that statement. Is Jesus saying there is no recourse for the Christian? If someone wants your house, your car, your bank account, your job, or your twelve-year-old daughter as his wife, do you shrug your shoulders and say, “Okay.” Is that what Jesus is commanding?
Jesus began this thought with ““You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’” One commentator stated that Jesus is correcting his listeners from taking revenge for every grievous thing done to them. I do not doubt that comment, but it would have helped twenty-first century readers if the point had been made clearer. Some have the idea that whatever another person wants, you must turn it over to him without reservation if you want to be a true believer.
This passage, like others, is a lesson in culture. Unless you understand the cultural background, you may misunderstand the passage. What culture was Jesus familiar with and who was he referring to when he said, “If any one forces you to go one mile”?
Jesus was referring to a Roman solider (the occupying force) commanding a Jew to carry his load one mile. This was a rule known by the Roman soldier and the Jews. The first century Jew had no choice in the matter. He picked up the Roman soldier’s backpack and carried it a mile. The soldier knew you were not obligated to carry it further. Jesus is teaching a lesson. Rather than get angry and plan revenge, carry that load for the required mile, then shock the soldier, and perhaps yourself by carrying it another mile.
We often read our culture into the Bible and end up with a command that doesn’t make sense, contradicts another passage, or is a modern substitute. Take the Christian greeting which is commanded five times in the New Testament (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; and 1 Peter 5:14). Although such a greeting continues to be a societal one in Europe, we have substituted something that fits our culture. Is there a passage which directs us toward a substitution? No. Who made that substitution and why was it followed by Bible believers? There are some who follow the rule that states, “If the Bible does not mention it, it is an addition to scripture and cannot be practiced by faith.” Yet, there are a multiplicity of additions practiced today that are modern creations rather than biblically based. We justify those additions using the words “expedient” or “necessarily implied.” Yet, scripture does not use either term or give detailed instructions allowing their creation. Those additions have woefully divided believers into hundreds of denominated groups.
Either our interpretative rules are inconsistent, or we have failed to see God’s grace is greater than we have imagined.