Over the last two of weeks, I have been spending a lot of time studying “The Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew’s Gospel. I would like to share some of the interesting insights I have gained from this study.
Anyone who has grown up in the church has heard this teaching of Jesus over and over again. I know that I am guilty of reading through this and saying to myself “yes, I know this; this is old hat…move on.” We all read over these passages and have probably highlighted favorite parts of Jesus teaching…but are we listening to what he is saying here?
For example; Jesus’ teaching in what is known as “the Beatitudes” (Matt. 5:3-12); this teaching of our Lord stresses humility (v.5) and endurance in the face of persecution because of our faith in Jesus (…on account of Me.” v.11). But note how Matthew arranges Jesus’ teaching towards the end of chapter 5, specifically verses 38-39 where it is written “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 him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
What is going on here?
What is Jesus quoting from when he says “…An eye for an eye…”?
Look at Leviticus 24:17-22 which in my Bible is headed with the title “An Eye for an Eye” and when you read v. 20 it is written “Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him.” But for the followers of Second Temple Judaism in the day of Jesus’ teaching, could this rule of “eye for eye” have been being abused by persons wanting to be justified under the over 600 extant rules included in the teaching of Torah? Is it possible that in the minds of some of the Pharisees’ they hoped to bring salvation from Rome by their own piety and zeal; over-did rule-following, and committed evil deeds in the name of “eye-for-eye”?
Remember that in Ancient Rome a high priority was placed on one’s honor. But is there any difference in our society today?
What of Jesus’ teaching here; when insulted, (“slapped”) we should allow another insult? (the other cheek?) Really, shouldn’t we “stand up for ourselves?” If nothing else, don’t we get the chance to tell our “side of the story” when others talk badly of us?
Listen to what Dr Craig Keener writes, from his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (1999):
…A disciple must be so secure in his or her status before God that he or she can dispense with human honor. Such a person need not avenge lost honor because this person seeks God’s honor rather than his or her own…If their lives are forfeit when they begin to follow Jesus (16:24-27) they have no honor of their own to lose. (p 198)
And just in case you don’t get around to looking up Matthew 16: 24-27, I’ll write it for you here:
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me, For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds.”
This idea of honor-shame and losing ones own soul; is not some simple, glossed over teaching of Jesus.
Are we so bound to save our honor that we would lose our souls striving to win the world?
And Paul wrote “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
Father in Heaven, these are tough teachings that my fallen nature fights against. When my possible livelihood may be in the balance; I ask that you help me to look to you, the Author and Perfecter of my faith. Please give me the strength to take up my cross and follow you…no matter what the cost, take the slap and offer the other cheek. In Jesus’ name I pray; Amen.
Craig Keener (1999) Comentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.