Justice According to Jesus, Part 2

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You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42)

Last week I introduced justice according to Jesus by pointing out that the law’s “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” was a limit on retribution rather than an ideal portrait of justice. Jesus’s own definition of justice, given here, is restorative rather than retributive, and it works by love and grace, not by anger and tit-for-tat vengeance.

There is a retributive side to God’s justice, and God is angry with sin. Jesus himself has made this very clear.

But where he can, God chooses to confront sin with love and grace first. There is a point of no return, but God’s way—as seen so vividly in Jesus—begins with aggressive love, self-sacrificing embrace, and open invitation.

Only after all these have been spurned does the wrath of God come into play.

If you want justice, Jesus is saying here, don’t begin with revenge. Begin by doing everything in your power to overcome evil with generous, startling good.

One Caveat: This Isn’t About Abuse

The idea in Jesus’s teaching here is not that an abused person (child, wife, etc.) should remain with an abuser or enable them by, for example, keeping their crimes a secret. In fact, the way this principle of nonresistance has been practiced in history has had the effect of revealing and exposing injustice on a massive scale.

Again, there IS a retributive aspect to justice, and there is a time to enact it. Romans 13:4 tells us that government is given a sword by God in order to punish evildoers. Likewise, the restoration spoken of in Matthew 5:25 and in Matthew 18 et al requires that the offender repent. If no repentance is forthcoming and a situation is dangerous, God is not asking you to stay in it.

Those who would say he is are guilty of playing exactly the kind of game “an eye for an eye” was written to expose and combat.

Going the Extra Mile

As Jesus unpacks the idea of nonresistance, what’s described is not passivity. It is active and subversive in the extreme. It actively turns a victim into an aggressor of love: wronged, you turn around and overwhelm an enemy with goodness.

Paul actually called this “heaping coals of burning fire” on an enemy’s head. It’s not about enabling unjust empires; it’s about overthrowing them.

In practice that’s what it does. Again, watch GANDHI or study the Civil Rights movement, or read Corrie Ten Boom’s stories of prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp turning the tables on their captors by blessing and praying for them. It’s like an enemy catching what he thinks is a deer in a net and finding out he’s got a lion.

Practicing Aggressive Goodness

I might suggest, if we find we have enemies, that we get super practical about this and figure out how we can turn the tables on them by overwhelming them with generosity and help.

Imagine if we could love radical terrorists into the kingdom before they’ve even had a chance to terrorize. Or if we could so overwhelm the staff and patrons at an abortion clinic with care and love that their lives are changed. Imagine loving people in the media, in opposing political parties, or in the entertainment industry with so much goodness and genuine care that their stereotypes are challenged and they find they must reexamine their assumptions.

Or bring it closer to home.

What if you stop resisting the church member who so irritates you and instead make a point of blessing them? What if when you’re angry with someone in your family, you walk out practical love for them—in whatever shape that takes? What if when a friend hurts you, you turn around and bless them?

What would the world look like if we all practiced nonresistance and restorative justice?

G.K. Chesterton famously said that the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried. Perhaps nowhere is that more true than here, in the principle of “turning the other cheek.”

We fear being made into victims and doormats. But this principle, practiced biblically, does just the opposite. It makes us more than conquerors in Christ.

(This is Part 52 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)



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