An Eye for An Eye?

Matthew 5:38-42

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Christianity gets a bad rap nowadays as a sort of peacenik, hippy dippy, liberal-lefty love-fest. Jesus as John Lennon sitting in his bed with Yoko, singing Imagine, that sort of thing. Not very manly, that’s for sure, let alone a philosophy to base a whole civilisation on, not when there are dangers like radical Islam around. Jesus was obviously off his rocker, and it got him killed. Better to do church as a tradition thing only and leave his words on the shelf. Right?

Only, if that were true, if Christianity were a peacenik pacifist religion, it wouldn’t be the civilising force it has been for the last two millennia. It wouldn’t have become the imperial religion of the Roman Empire, let alone the force that overturned slavery, which had been ubiquitous throughout history until then, or the basis for fighting off despotism time and again.

Joan of Arc did a pretty decent job of combining religious piety and martial fervour, as did Charles ‘The Hammer’ Martel. Even Jesus told his followers to sell their cloaks and buy swords. He had little to say on singing ‘Imagine.’

So what’s going on here?

Well, it’s simple. The passage has been misinterpreted.

It is not, as is commonly thought, a call for pacifism. Rather, it’s an instruction on what to do in the face of overwhelming tyranny.

I hate to point this out, but you are just one person. You may have noticed also that the voices of justice and reason are few and far between in this world, certainly today, just as they were 2000 years ago, and indeed have been in every age.

That leaves the truth-speakers vulnerable against the might of the Powers That Be – and again, there almost always are powers that be, and they always do power-crazed, totalitarian things. If you happen to live in a time of peace, with a benevolent government, count yourself among the lucky few. Most do not. We, currently, do not.

What Jesus is saying is that when those Powers That Be try, for whatever reason, do make you do something unreasonable like, oh, I don’t know, use gender neutral pronouns or accept being injected with a largely untested vaccine, stand firm.

They will try and force you. They will issue threats: fines, job losses, prison even. And when those fail, they may well use physical violence. This is the moment of testing. Will you fall to your knees and beg clemency?

Or will you turn the other cheek and say “Come on then, do your worst.”?