Jesus says a lot in the Sermon on the Mount about how we should respond when we feel hurt, cheated, or wronged. The Law gave Israel specific instructions for how to penalize those who commit crimes: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21) Under the Law, punishment was sure and swift, people knew that they would receive punishment that was equivalent to the crime they had committed, and people were held accountable for their behavior.
But what does Jesus have to say? “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. And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
This sounds so very different that the Law of the Old Testament! Was Jesus changing the Law? No. He was revealing to us the true intent of the Law. Jesus was fulfilling the Law by “telling us that righteous men are to be controlled by a higher law. The law of love.” (Arthur, pg 116)
Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength should lead us to have love and compassion for our fellow man. And loving your neighbor allows you to fulfill the Law because you cannot cheat, murder, steal, or covet from one that you love. Mercy and the desire for another’s ultimate good are the goal of the law of love. And with this goal, we no longer need personal justice or retribution.
What are we to do?
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.”
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.”
“Never take your own revenge.”
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink.”
“Overcome evil with good.”
“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.”
Romans 12:14, 17, 19, 20, 21; 13:8