Eye For An Eye and Jesus’ Savvy

I never competed in a spelling bee but it was news to me that savvy had two v’s. Anyway, Matthew 5:38-42 is so chocked full of savvy that it isn’t even funny.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 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.

First, he teaches that if someone slaps you that you turn the other cheek and see if they will slap you twice. What makes that savvy is that the first slap on the right cheek is probably a backhanded slap, which was a very degrading and shaming type of slap in their culture. A slap with the open hand was the slap given to someone your equal. So Jesus is saying if someone dishonors you with a backhand to the face, turn the other cheek and send the message that you have more worth than they first recognized, making you their equal (see this post for more info on that). So you aren’t resisting them or intensifying the situation but you are sending a clear message that should help resolve the situation peacefully.

Then in verse 40 Jesus says if someone wants to sue you for your shirt, give them your outer cloak as well. Pretty savvy. These guys only wore two pieces of clothing so Jesus is teaching that if someone wants to sue the shirt right off of you, hand them the rest of your clothes too and walk out of court naked. What effect would that have on the situation? It would show that you were unfairly treated and bring bad PR to the one suing you.

Last in verse 41 Jesus tells them to walk two miles if someone asks them to go one. This is almost certainly in reference to the Roman practice of requiring someone to carry the pack of a soldier one mile if requested. What Jesus is doing here is teaching his people to go beyond what was required but a bi-product of that was to potentially bring scrutiny on the soldier who made the request because you went beyond your legal obligation and in doing so actually put him in the position of violating your rights under the law.

In each of these instances, Jesus is asking his followers to release their rights and to live lives of self-sacrifice but in each case there is also a lesson toward the offending party that might help them understand that there is a better way to live and that taking advantage of people has consequences, all without Jesus’ disciples having to do anything ungodly or out of character. These verses remind me of what Paul said in Romans 12:19-21,

“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”


About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

One Response to Eye For An Eye and Jesus’ Savvy

  1. Holly says:

    Thanks Matt. Very interesting points there. I had not thought much about the implications for the other party in this passage.

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