Episode 18 - Retaliation - Part 1
February 3, 2023
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In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us God’s heart. The religious rulers and teachers of His day had perverted the Law, creating loopholes to get out of following it. As a result, they effectively became law breakers. Jesus chose six examples of their false teaching and dismantled each.
That’s the backdrop to the following passage, another false teaching of His day:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
The topic Jesus is addressing is retaliation, our urge to get even; but, it’s more too. It’s about the quality and aim of our hearts. How we should think and feel in a positive sense.
Hey, I'm Matt Brownell.
And I'm Van Owens.
And I'm Tim Adams.
Welcome to Climbing the Mountain, where we dive into the scriptures and discuss themes,
connections, and real life application.
We're kicking off a series here where we're going to examine the Sermon on the Mount and
discuss implications for this teaching for Christians today.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us God's heart.
The religious rulers and teachers of his day had perverted the law, creating loopholes
to get out of following it.
As a result, they effectively became lawbreakers.
Jesus chose six examples of their false teaching, the ways they relaxed God's standards and
The first two were examples of the law being narrowed.
Anger and lust are in our hearts before we ever act.
And the law judges these thoughts and feelings or passions just as it does our actions.
The next two are examples of how the Pharisees and teachers of the law had relaxed the law
through clever lawyering.
They took a sentence or a phrase from the law and used it in a way that ignored the
context and actual meaning of God's word.
In response, Jesus reminds them of the overall context, marriage is a sacred commitment not
so easily dissolved, and we should be completely truthful in all our dealings.
So that's the backdrop of the following passage, another false teaching of his day.
Tim, do you want to read it?
Matthew 5.38-42 says, You have heard that it was said, eye for eye.
And tooth for tooth.
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.
If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also.
If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
Give to the one who asks you and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from
So the topic Jesus is addressing is retaliation or urge to get even.
But it's more too.
It's about the quality and aim of our hearts, how we should think and feel in a positive
I think the first place I want to start is the false teaching.
So what's wrong with eye for an eye and tooth for tooth?
This is the phrase Jesus says his audience heard.
So there's something about this phrase that we can infer was false.
But this saying is directly lifted from Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21
There's three books of the Torah.
Do you think Jesus is saying there was something wrong with the first covenant and he's here
to fix it and restore something to God's actual ideal?
Or do you think these passages of law were being misapplied in some way?
Well, the short answer to that for me is I don't know.
This is another one that is really a challenge for me.
And I always go back to the statement that Jesus made when he says, I didn't come to negate
the law, but to fulfill it.
And that the intention of this law has been, by the time Jesus is delivering this sermon,
the intention of this law has been adulterated in some way and has become something that
people use to exact vengeance or to punish in some way that he considered unjust.
That's where I've landed with it, that the original intent of this law was for justice
and that it's somehow been perverted in a way that violates justice.
Matt, I'm actually really curious how you see this.
I was going to just jump in, but I know normally we just do the rounds.
Yeah, no, I do you want me to go for it?
So I don't think Jesus is saying, oh, that eye for eye thing, that was terrible.
Let me show you something better.
I think that would be odd, an odd way of looking at it because I think it would mean that Jesus
is negating the very law his mission was to fulfill.
So I'm taking the position, I assume it was being misapplied.
And I think that's what we find too.
The false teaching Jesus was addressing his day dealt with an unlawful extension or expansion
of what was a public law into a private venue.
So this is what I, when I was looking at those passages that I referenced, Exodus 21 was
one of them.
So you remember when we, like a few sessions ago, we were talking about the Pharisees and
how they had a pattern of doing this.
In Matthew 15, we looked at how they had taken this ceremonial washing and that was reserved
for priests before their sacrifice at the altar, applied it to the private family
life at the dinner table.
So that wasn't the only example of how they unlawfully applied the law, how they extended
it into areas that it didn't directly apply.
The passages that I referenced from the Torah deal with public laws for judges to administer
in a court.
In fact, the courts mentioned in just the prior sentence in Exodus 21, the Pharisees
and teachers of law took these verses and applied them to private dealings though, which
is totally the opposite of how eye for an eye is supposed to work.
By taking it out of the courts, they turned average people into vigilantes, right?
The whole situation runs completely contrary to the whole point of justice and rule of
We're not to take matters into our own hands.
Hey, coincidentally, I don't know if you've ever seen that bumper sticker, you know, an
Eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
Well, I mean, it's clever, but it's completely missing the point of what eye for an eye is.
This is a Lex Tellianus, the law of retaliation.
It's an ancient principle that limited what a court could penalize any offender to something
So, for instance, if he stole a loaf of bread, you can have your hand chopped off.
The whole point of eye for an eye is fairness and limiting judgment.
You've probably heard a recent variation of this.
The punishment must fit the crime.
It goes both ways.
You can't lose a hand for stealing, but if you kill someone, a slap on the wrists isn't
going to cut it either.
This idea gets to one of the central tenets of the law that Jesus called the weightier
things, justice, mercy, and faith.
God loves justice.
Most importantly, though, for what Jesus was addressing here, it's something you find
in a court of law.
It's not a principle to be exacted in private life.
And I think that's the problem Jesus was addressing.
The Pharisees were applying a public law to private life, which is the same mistake the
bumper sticker makes.
And I mean, to be fair, it's an easy assumption to make.
Our desire for revenge is baked into us.
It's really strong.
You injured me.
I've got a right to exact my pound of flesh.
God's law puts the matter of dispute to be decided by a fair and impartial judge who
applies a fair measure of retribution.
So when that sentence is meted out in a court of law, justice is supposed to be served and
the matter resolved.
Yeah, I think that's a great explanation, and it is very helpful to distinguish what
are we doing in our private lives versus what happens in a court of law.
I think we'll talk about that in probably a much greater length later on when we wrestle
with the obvious question there is basically like, what can Christians be involved in those
situations if we're called to love our enemies?
But I think we'll hit that in another episode.
So taking it to what we're talking about now, one of the simple ways I think about it is
the old law, the old covenant, when it speaks for the eye for the eye, it's talking about
That justice needs to be served and there shouldn't be, having too much of a punishment
is not just, having too small of a punishment is not just, but that justice is not opposed
to goodness, right?
God is both just and He is good.
And I think we can all recognize that if someone has done something unfair to me, I mean, this
is going to, as it happens on court of law occasionally, and it's always really incredible
when it does, right?
Someone is hurt.
I think there was an example where basically this child was hit by a stray gunshot, right?
And they caught the guy and he's in court and she's like, I forgive you, right?
Like I don't have anything against you.
She just had the spirit of gratitude for her life, not for the horrible thing that happened,
but she didn't say, I'm going to shoot you now, right?
And that is goodness, right?
And I think that's one of the key things that Jesus is calling us to rather than this retaliatory
first mindset of, I've got to get even.
He's calling us to a higher standard where it's like, well, someone might have done you
Someone might be actively doing you wrong in the moment.
But that doesn't mean that you need to get back to them.
You can rise above that.
And it's, I think the Lex Tellianus sets a limit, but it doesn't mean that you have
to go to that limit either.
I mean, I think it's important that justice is served.
But I like what you were saying about how our attitudes should be toward others.
And I think especially in the realm of interpersonal relationships, we should not tit for tat kind
Our heart should not be bent toward, I got to get even.
That's not fair.
He did this to me.
Again, I think about my kids because it comes out so much.
He's touching me.
That's my toy.
Don't do that.
It's my turn.
That's not fair.
You know, all the, it's so, I mean, this is such a, it's so deep within us from childhood.
Well, and the fact that, so you take the fact that all have sinned and fallen short of the
glory of God.
All of us.
Every single one.
So which of us has a right to get vengeance from which of us for what?
If we're all in the same boat, you know, it's that scripture in Romans 12,:19, it
says, beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.
Whatever it has written, vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord that that's something
that we just don't need to venture into because when you venture into that, then you're quantifying
If I say that I need to take, you took my hat.
So and that was wrong.
You stole my hat.
So I'm going to steal your jacket.
That's me saying you're stealing my hat is equal to my stealing your jacket.
I have, I'm more righteous than you are because you took my thing.
Now I get to take your, you're quantifying something that can't be quantified by anybody,
And it doesn't, it doesn't help stop the problem in the first place and, and dealing with the,
again, I think Jesus is dealing with the heart issue.
And I think maybe this is a good place to start talking about this antithetical statement
that he makes, right?
He says, but I say, and he says, we're not to resist an evil person.
This is a really challenging statement.
It can seem difficult to apply, especially when people I love are also in harm's way.
So now this is a classical hypothetical, but let's, let's dive into it.
Consider a thief breaking into your house to steal something and he's got a knife.
What do you do?
What if he attacks you or your wife?
So I think I'm a little unusual in that I argued with my, one of my best friends about
this when we were eighth grade.
Like that's one of the ways became friends as we argued about this idea and the subject
So that's weird, but that's who I was.
So in eighth grade, seventh and eighth grade.
Big man on campus.
That's not exactly the way to like get super popular.
But, but yeah, so I mean the, this hypothetical situation is one that is, gets to right to
the core of this topic and it does so by kind of taking things to the extreme, but it's
very natural to go here because when, when Jesus says don't resist an evil person, what's
the first thing that we all feel?
We feel fear.
What if I get taken advantage of?
What if I get hurt?
What if things don't go right?
And there's, there's so much I could say about this.
I think my one line answer to the question is that I would prayerfully,
if I, if I act in a way that's in accordance with my convictions, which I wrestle with,
it could I actually do this?
But I would want to be in a place where I would be able to treat this thief, treat
this person who is threatening myself and my family recognizing this is someone who is
also creating the image of God who is, I have no right to take this person's life or harm
this person and instead I'm going to treat this person with love and that's scary.
It puts me at a physical disadvantage.
And I'll read, I'll read one scripture that I think it's kind of another hypothetical
situation but it's one that Peter addresses and it kind of gets to a similar thing and
it points to the example of Jesus in these moments.
In 1 Peter 2 18-25, it says, slaves in reverent fear of God submit yourselves
to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who
For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because
they are conscious of God.
But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it?
But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.
To this you are called because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should
follow in his steps.
He committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth.
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate.
When he suffered, he made no threats.
Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross so that we might die to sins and live
for righteousness by his wounds you have been healed.
For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the shepherd and overseer
of your souls.
It's easy to make Jesus in this example, in this area of our life.
It's easy to make him like, oh, I'm glad that Jesus died so I don't have to.
But I do think at the crux of it that Peter is explicitly calling on slaves in this context
to undergo potentially very difficult treatment where they had harsh masters.
He points to Jesus as an example of someone who suffered wrong even though he had done
no wrong and that he didn't retaliate.
That feels to me very in line with what Jesus is saying here, don't resist an evil person.
It's really one of the most challenging things that he says.
If what I understand is correct.
What do you think, Van?
This is a really, really hard one.
The thing about these, as we're digging deeper into the Sermon on the Mount, on the surface
of things when I just look at the Sermon on the Mount, the most challenging stuff is the
stuff about lust, the stuff about equating lust with adultery.
That kind of thing on the surface is what I'm afraid of when I read the passage.
But then when I dig into it and I see passages like the last conversation we had about, yes
And now this one, it's really difficult because it goes counter to just about everything that
I've ever thought or learned in my life about manhood is that a man doesn't let another
man abuse him and a man certainly doesn't let another man abuse his loved ones.
And so it's really difficult.
And I have in my past looked for loopholes.
What about, what if this did happen to me?
What would I do?
And the conclusion that I've come to similar to yours, Tim, is that I would want to be
in a place where I could treat that person with love.
I could think of them as another soul, as another sinner who needs help, and that I
could not resist them.
But I will be honest with you and tell you it's really hard for me to think of somebody
doing something to my wife or my son or my daughter and me just standing there and letting
them do it.
And I know that it gets at, you know, and I appreciate the passage that you read, Tim,
because it begins to get at the suffering and not only the fact that suffering exists,
but that there's value in suffering, that there's a connection between suffering and
salvation, obviously with Jesus.
And that would this, would God ever call me to suffer in that way?
And if he did, would I be able to submit to it?
Would I be able to be like Jesus was?
It's a really difficult one, though.
Yeah, this is a hard one.
I've gone back and forth on this, trying to figure out, well, what do I actually believe?
And I think it was helpful for me when I was studying this to go back to what is he addressing
here, which was taking this public law and applying it to private life thing.
Because I think in this, it is a classic hypothetical, right?
And I liked what you shared, and I totally agree with you, Tim, about what Jesus' example
is, right, that when he was insulted, he didn't retaliate.
That's what we're talking about here, in the interpersonal kind of things.
And even in that situation, it's a special one, because here he is, government is subjecting
him to torture and capital punishment unjustly.
And in that society, Peter was addressing slaves who would treat their masters.
This is a different situation than two people, same power, dynamic, same, you know, there's
no like, they're not your boss or whatever, or a government official doing something to
you, you have no control over.
We're supposed to respect authority in a sense, I think, from what I see in here, even if
it's authority that is bad, because we're called to pray for our leaders that, you know,
and I think when that was written, it was written about Nero, probably, out of his mind,
So I think there's nuance to this, in the particular subject of this classic hypothetical,
the way I think of it is, it's helpful to go back to the law, and in Exodus 22, verse
2, we read about a case of a thief breaking in at night, and the law assumes we will defend
And it says that if we accidentally kill the intruder, it's not committed, it's not considered
And so I think the sixth command, injunction not to murder places value not only on other
people's lives, but also our own.
So I read that as the law making some assumption about how we would defend ourselves and defend
loved ones in a situation like that.
And I think you see that reflected in today's courts too, where they continue to recognize
that manslaughter resulting from true self-defense is not a crime.
And I think we get more about this intent with the example that Jesus gives with if
someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other.
I think there is a heart of turning the other cheek, but what does that mean?
When I think about it, and I, so I go to the UFC gym and I take my kids there and I used
to be into wrestling and stuff, and now they're doing kickboxing and, you know, different martial
And, and I want to go out on the mat so bad because I love wrestling and things.
And I know if I do, I will hurt myself.
So not in shape.
But what's helpful for me to think about is if you threw your, most people are right-handed.
So if you want to really do some damage, you, you throw your right hand and, and where is
that going to land on your opponent?
What he's talking about here is someone striking you on the right cheek.
If you're using your dominant hand, that's a back-handed slap.
That's not intended to cause harm as much as insult.
And what I found interesting is you go back through some of the rabbinical sources on this
and they talk about that.
They talk about what, and greater offense this would be to get this back-handed slap,
this dishonoring, insulting slap and how, what you could do, how you could sue someone
Because it's an honor culture.
It's an honor culture.
That's a huge thing.
And so I think what he's addressing here is more insult rather than assault.
And so in that situation, yeah, we were supposed to turn the other cheek.
We're supposed to have a absorbing meek character that looks at someone in love.
Which is also hard.
It's very hard.
You know, if you take the scenario of somebody breaks in your house and is going to do harm
to your family, that, yes, that's very hard.
But someone slaps you or someone in my youth, I had somebody spit on me.
Now somebody spitting on you, barring that maybe they had COVID or something, doesn't
really do much physical harm to you.
It's the shame of it is really difficult to bear.
And just really, I mean, and again, in the way that I was raised, I think in a way that
a lot of American men are raised is not something you put up with.
You would, it merits physical retaliation in some ways.
And so even when we talk about it being a thing of honor, it puts it in a different light,
but it's still really hard because what it offends is my pride, my sense of who I am,
my manhood, my reputation, all these things that we can really value as human beings.
And I think, but they have a different value when we think of ourselves as spiritual beings,
as Christians, as sons of God, that what does it matter if somebody slaps and gives
me a backhanded slap across the cheek to my soul and to his?
It's still a really difficult thing.
Yeah, and that happens much more often.
At least here in our current society that we're speaking to, that people are treating
me with spite, that people are trying to take advantage of me, that what's the other example?
I think taking advantage summarizes two of those examples.
And if we come from a mindset of, I cannot lose my pride, I cannot lose my physical
goods, I cannot lose my time, and anything you take from me is an assault on who I am.
Take the insult as an assault, and that's how you think about it, then we can't embody
what Jesus is saying here.
Jesus is saying, don't resist this evil person.
And I think probably the last thing I'll say before we close for this episode is, because
I think we'll talk about the use of force continually through the next few verses, but
Van, you talked about the idea of, you use the phrase of doing nothing while you watch
this horrible thing happen to your family.
And we can discuss it in greater depth, but what I see from Jesus is a lot of things,
but what I don't see is someone who does nothing.
And in this we have a negative thing, do not resist an evil person, but Jesus never ends
He never ends with the negative.
There's always an affirmative, and I think by embodying this command, we don't become
shells of who we are, and we don't have to empty ourselves of our manhood or our humanity
or whatever is relevant to you.
We don't need to empty the mother or the father or the brother or sister, that is, each of
us, there's a truer humanity that Jesus is trying to point us to, a fuller embodiment
of who we as individuals and who we can be as a society and what it would look like for
the kingdom of God to come.
And that starts with not resisting an evil person, but just as Jesus' example will talk
about, it doesn't end there.
Yeah, yeah, I like what you're saying about pride, love is not proud, right?
That's something that, you know, it's not easily angered, and I love this, instead we
should, you're right, do the, instead of just not doing the bad, we should even go above
and beyond, open ourselves up to further insult, which is like blow my mind kind of thing,
if it's warranted, right?
This is a good place to end.
This is a great discussion.
We'll pick it up next time.