NON-RE­TAL­I­A­TION

Activated - - NEWS - Peter Am­s­ter­dam and his wife, Maria Fon­taine, are di­rec­tors of the Fam­ily In­ter­na­tional, a Chris­tian com­mu­nity of faith.

Je­sus started the Ser­mon on the Mount with the Beat­i­tudes, which spoke of bless­ings for the

1 poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for right­eous­ness, the mer­ci­ful, the pure in heart, the peace­mak­ers, and those who are per­se­cuted. He was teach­ing what those who were part of the king­dom of God were to be like. Then He moved on to an­other topic:

“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 the one who is evil. But if any­one slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any­one would sue you and take your tu­nic, let him have your cloak as well. And if any­one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would bor­row from you.”

2 The Old Tes­ta­ment stated that when some­one in­jured or killed an­other, their pun­ish­ment was to be equal to their wrong­do­ing. This con­cept of pro­por­tion­ate re­tribu

3 tion is called lex tal­io­nis, and was also present in other an­cient codes of law.

The pur­pose was to lay the foun­da­tion of jus­tice, elim­i­nat­ing blood feuds, where one per­son or fam­ily took the law into their own hands be­cause they felt bound to avenge the dam­age done to them or their rel­a­tives. Lex tal­io­nis called for equal retri­bu­tion for the guilty party, so that the mat­ter would be re­solved.

How­ever, there are sim­i­lar­i­ties to what Je­sus taught even in the Old Tes­ta­ment: “Do not seek re­venge or bear a grudge against one of your peo­ple, but love your neigh­bor as your­self.” “Do not say, ‘I will do to him as he has done

4 to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.’”

5 Let’s look at the first ex­am­ple Je­sus used: “If any­one slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Slap­ping some­one’s cheek was con­sid­ered a se­vere in­sult, and one could be taken to court and fined for it. In or­der for a right-handed per­son to slap some­one on their right cheek, it would be nec­es­sary to use the back of the right hand, and in those days, slap­ping some­one’s cheek with the back of the hand was con­sid­ered ex­tra in­sult­ing and re­sulted in a dou­ble fine. So Je­sus was say­ing that when some­one dis­hon­ors you (in this ex­am­ple by giv­ing a back­handed slap on the cheek), you are not to seek fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion within the le­gal sys­tem, but rather to ac­cept the in­sult and not re­tal­i­ate, and even of­fer the left cheek for a fur­ther in­sult.

Je­sus then specif­i­cally speaks of a law­suit: “If any­one would sue you and take your tu­nic, let him have your cloak as well.”

This speaks of a sit­u­a­tion where one is sued in court for their tu­nic, or shirt. Je­sus says that in such a sit­u­a­tion one should give up his cloak or coat as well. For many, giv­ing up their coat—which was gen­er­ally heav­ier than a tu­nic and dou­bled as a blan­ket at night—would mean real hard­ship. Ac­cord­ing to Old Tes­ta­ment law, it was not le­gal to keep some­one’s coat overnight if you took it as a pledge for a loan. Je­sus was say­ing to go be­yond what was de­manded, to give the cloak freely even if it meant be­ing cold at night.

6 His third ex­am­ple had to do with the Ro­man law by which a sub­ju­gated peo­ple were legally bound to bear a bur­den or per­form a ser­vice on com­mand: “If any­one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”

This con­cept of a per­son be­ing forced to carry a bur­den on com­mand of the Ro­mans can be seen when Si­mon of Cyrene was forced to carry Je­sus’ cross.

7 Je­sus was telling His dis­ci­ples that if they were com­pelled to do such a ser­vice, even by an en­emy, they should do so, and more.

The fourth ex­am­ple doesn’t deal with some­thing in the le­gal realm, but rather re­flects more of an ev­ery­day sit­u­a­tion: “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would bor­row from you.”

Je­sus is teach­ing gen­eros­ity to­ward those in need, whether they are beg­gars or some­one who would bor­row money from you. As in the pre­vi­ous cases, He puts forth an ex­am­ple of the right at­ti­tude for mem­bers of the king­dom of God. We are to be gen­er­ous and to give or lend cheer­fully. This is not a call to give all you have to beg­gars, nor that you loan all of your money to oth­ers and im­pov­er­ish your­self. The point is to give with a right at­ti­tude, not with a grudg­ing heart. As the apos­tle Paul wrote when col­lect­ing funds for the poor Jerusalem church, “Each one must give as he has de­cided in his

heart, not reluc­tantly or un­der com­pul­sion, for God loves a cheer­ful giver.”

8 Through th­ese four ex­am­ples, Je­sus ad­dresses our nat­u­ral bent to­ward be­ing self­ish or de­fen­sive, re­tal­i­at­ing, or de­mand­ing jus­tice in sit­u­a­tions where we con­sider that we are be­ing taken ad­van­tage of or be­ing in­sulted or hurt in some way.

Je­sus calls us to fol­low the prin­ci­ple of non-re­tal­i­a­tion and teaches us to strive against the nat­u­ral de­sire to de­fend our­selves or to de­sire re­venge when some­one has harmed, in­sulted, or wronged us. As Chris­tians, by God’s grace, we are called not to give way to of­fenses or to model our re­sponse ac­cord­ing to the ac­tions of oth­ers.

The ex­am­ple of the deep in­sult, as well as that of the tu­nic and the law, points to the Chris­tian re­sponse to per­sonal in­jus­tice—of not re­spond­ing in kind in a spirit of vengeance or re­tal­i­a­tion when some­one wrongs us. This doesn’t im­ply that Chris­tians can­not or shouldn’t avail them­selves of the le­gal sys­tem when their rights or the rights of oth­ers are be­ing in­fringed upon, par­tic­u­larly when life and lib­erty or ba­sic hu­man rights are at stake.

The ex­am­ple of be­ing com­pelled to carry some­thing teaches that when things are legally de­manded of us (as long as they are not im­moral), we should go the ex­tra mile by do­ing them will­ingly and with­out re­sent­ment.

Giv­ing and lend­ing to those that ask ad­dresses the at­ti­tude of “what’s mine is mine” and “if I share what I have, I may suf­fer loss.” Again, Je­sus wasn’t ad­vo­cat­ing giv­ing un­til we have noth­ing left and we also be­come beg­gars; He was ad­dress­ing our in­stinc­tive self-con­cern and self­ish­ness. We may not be able to give to ev­ery­one, but if some­one is in need and we have the means to help, we should. This would es­pe­cially hold true when it is a brother or sis­ter in Christ, as the apos­tle John wrote: “If any­one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”

9 As Chris­tians, mem­bers of God’s king­dom, we are chal­lenged to tran­scend nat­u­ral be­hav­ior. We are to move away from self-in­ter­est and be­come more aware of liv­ing the prin­ci­ple of lov­ing our neigh­bors as our­selves. This isn’t a call to be a “doormat” which ev­ery­one walks on; rather it’s a chal­lenge to have an at­ti­tude of love, mercy, and com­pas­sion, and the dig­nity to let some things pass, to ab­sorb some loss, whether of face or fi­nances. Rather than re­tal­i­at­ing and seek­ing to de­fend our pride, or al­ways look­ing out for our own best in­ter­ests, we are called to love, to fol­low Je­sus’ ex­am­ple of not look­ing to His own in­ter­ests.

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