A basic life lesson is that life isn’t fair. We’d like it to be and try to create laws to make it that way. But to date no one has devised a law that truly makes it fair for everyone. Sure, some have tried, but there are always differences based on something other than fairness. The problem is that what is fair for one often isn’t for another. We all have a sense of fairness that is colored by our desires, jealousy, fears, and loves.
Then Jesus comes along and upsets our perceptions of what is fair with four imperative commands. Jesus says, “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 an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces 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, NASB95)
Jesus’ basic premise is to go beyond the rigorous fairness of an eye for an eye to where fairness costs us something. Those four commands are turn, send, go, and give.
Our current President is famous for hitting back. The way he says it is if someone hits him he hits back twice as hard. This is the law of jungle that “an eye for an eye” was designed to correct. When someone hits us, whether, with a punch, a word, a look, or a slight our desire is to get even. To correct the wrong. To extract repayment. It’s the fair thing to do, right? The way of Jesus, the command of Jesus, is to offer them a second hit instead of striking back. This isn’t strike back twice as hard, strike back stroke for stroke, or take a punch and avoid a second. This is taking a punch and putting ourselves in position to take another.
This command is buried a little bit. Jesus says, “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.” The command part is “let him have.” To put this in modern terms – if someone sues you for one hundred dollars send them two hundred. This is before the lawsuit even goes to trial. Again, Jesus’ command is to go beyond fairness.
Many times, when we say “someone went the extra mile” it indicates extra effort beyond normal expectations. But Jesus’ command isn’t about the amount of effort we apply, it again touched that basic idea of fairness.
It is said that in Jesus’ day the occupying Roman army could legally conscript anyone to carry a load for one standard mile. A soldier could force someone to carry their heavy pack for a mile. We see this played out when Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry Jesus’ cross on the way to Golgotha (Mark 15:21). You could put it this way, if someone forces you to carry a load then carry it twice as far.
The final command is to give to those that ask. This command is unique among the four in that there is no prior evil action. When someone asks for a handout or to borrow something our immediate response is to weigh their truthfulness and worthiness. If I loan that power drill to my neighbor will I ever see it again? Is the guy on the corner with the sign in legitimate need or are they just grifting instead of getting a real job? There are no preconditions in Jesus’ statement, just a command to give and to loan.
What it all means
So, we arrive at this point and wonder what Jesus was trying to say. Rarely does anyone come up to me and slap me on the cheek. In fact, it has never happened. I’ve never been sued. There are no Roman soldiers or anyone else that would force me to carry something for a mile. But there are folks that beg for handouts and neighbors that borrow things. How do we apply these commands to today?
I think that Jesus’ point was to throw out our ideas of fairness and justice. Before Moses fairness was unbalanced in my favor. Retribution stronger than the offense. The Law of Moses evened the scales with “an eye for an eye.” Jesus is commanding that we unbalance the scales in the favor of others. Even if their actions and motives are evil.
This could play out at work by buying lunch for that co-worker that is always riding us. Paying for the restaurant order even when everything was wrong. Helping those who ask without weighing their worthiness. It means giving to folks what they don’t deserve. Give love in the face of hate. Give patience in the face of pushiness. Give forgiveness in the face of offense. We are not to resist evil with evil but answer it with good that costs us something.
Jesus did this very thing for us. In the face of the slap of our sin He died for us. I think that Jesus point is that we should do the same for others. Jesus says repay evil with good.