Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
The sanitized Western culture that I live in often misunderstands biblical statements. Matthew 5:38-48 provides several opportunities for misunderstanding. Verse 38 is the whipping boy I’d like to rescue today. Jesus, quoting Exodus chapter 21, reports a biblical custom. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This sounds quite brutal, doesn’t it? Let’s debunk that idea.
In the time of Moses, within all Middle Eastern cultures, an offended party could exact whatever punishment was desired from the offender. Did he make me mad? Maybe I should kill him. No, how about burning his house down with all his family inside? Should I make him watch? Then maybe put his eyes out so that’s the last thing he’ll see? Or maybe I’m merciful. I got in a fight with a guy. He knocked one of my teeth out. I won the fight. I’m going to cut off his hand.
Compared to this broader cultural view of retribution, what did God say through Moses? He said that the penalty should be commensurate with the crime. There are other statements in the chapter. Notice how they tend to protect the person who was the victim of the crime, but they are also merciful to the criminal. There is a strong deterrent. But you aren’t allowed to go bumping someone off because he was rude.
Now, let’s see what Jesus says in the New Covenant. He says that even though you might have the legal right to exact penalties, your general attitude will be that of foregoing your rights so as to care for the person who was in the wrong. He doesn’t take away the penalty. He doesn’t negate it at all. He says that, if you can stand it, you should choose not to inflict the penalty. The person who has wronged you is aware of the injustice. He is aware that he has hurt you. He gets to live with that.
Let’s keep trying to find the context of the Scriptures we are so ready to throw at people. Context is king!
If this brief meditation was helpful to you, I hope you will check out the other materials on our website at www.WittenbergCoMo.com and consider supporting us.