August 14, 2011

Hard Sayings XI: Jus Talionis: Turn The Other Cheek

"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." Matthew 5:39

So what is Jesus telling us to do here, become human doormats? No he is not. On the eternal scale of things, the truth is this:

If God is for us who can be against us?" ~Romans 8:31

What makes this hard is what it is asking us to do in the face of outright hostility. What is more is that this verse mentions the right cheek. Hitting someone in the right cheek with the back of one's right hand was a greater insult as it was hitting or attacking a persons side or hand of power, therefore it was more insulting.

What we see here is along the lines of forgiving your brother seventy times seven times. In the world an unprovoked attack usually is responded to in kind with equal hostility or at least an equal measure of resentment. Christians are of the Kingdom and the demands on us are greater and more restricted in their response in these situations. The idea of lex talionis (limited retaliation) is mentioned previous in this context to this which was an eye for and eye, tooth for tooth. Even this Law from Moses' time was to limit retaliation to an equal response not one-upmanship in hostility and violence (Exodus 21:23-25). Usually this mentality had not been adhered to and petty squabbles between individuals would often lead to bloody feuds between families or even tribes.

What do we see Christ say here though? Not only does he say to turn the other cheek in this passage, he also says to go the extra mile (milion or thousand paces) when forced to go one. He is telling us to go above and beyond what is the accepted or expected norm of society in terms of graceful and forgiving behavior. What ever we do we are to do as exemplary because we are Christians. This includes even the stuff we do not want to do such as physical hardship. The extra mile? In the time of Christ Roman soldiers could requisition commoners or plebians to carry things like their gear such as shield, armor. They were required to carry it a minimum of a thousand paces or one milion (with one "L") . This was translated from the Greek word  μίλιον / milion or what was considered the "Roman mile" (5820.9 feet). Jesus tells his listeners to double the distance even if it means hardship to themselves. At the end of the first mile you are a free man but if you voluntarily decide to carry it an additional mile for the soldier, the entire face of this situation changes. The initiative becomes yours and the chances that the soldiers perception of you might change for the better is high. Not only are you being friendly and throwing the person off their guard, you are reflecting an act of grace. Undeserved grace (what other kind is there?) but Godly and Christlike at its core. Non-retaliation after being struck is even more profound in its contrast.

The same principle applies to being struck. No one wants to be hit, it is painful, an inconvenience and a hardship. Jesus says to bear it. It appears to be telling us to not even retaliate. To require one to do this you are also requiring that they suppress their sinful nature to resent and get even. Here again as in other commands from Jesus we see the impetus to not only stop the action but to actually change the thought processes and habitual responses that lead to the inevitable violent or hostile reaction. If we train ourselves to respond non-violently in these situations non-violence becomes a second nature. Does it make us a doormat? No, it makes us an example of the Kingdom.

The purposes of God are higher than that of man and when we see that Jesus came to bring the Kingdom we understand why. It shows grace. When someone's actions or words undermine God's word it his in this situation that we need to do what Jesus said here. Forgive and move on. In the end it is God that is the final Judge of man's actions. In these situations Christians are called to something different than lex talionis which seeks to put an upper limit on retaliation. It could be referred to as jus talionis and we rarely ever hear of this type of thing anymore because we live in a culture and world where revenge is the preferred and sought after result. Jus talionis or "justice of kind" as opposed to lex talionis "law of kind". A idea of jus talionis is simple, it does not condone revenge but rather a compensation of fair value or to give the value of equal measure in compensation. Jesus in this verse tells His listeners to forego revenge completely. Instead of exacting revenge or a repayment for damages (as in a lawsuit), Jesus actually tells us to give to him who asks of you.

If someone actually wrongs you...challenge them with kindness in return. Is this being a doormat? If God Almighty is the final judge of things, do you think you will be a doormat in the final measure of things? If you end up in Heaven for obedience will it even matter to you then? We need to think in the full scale and measure of things and stop letting our anger or tempers get the better of us in the present. We need to stop living soley nd selfishly for ourselves in the "now" and start living for God and others for eternity.

So, these are two examples from 1st century Judea. How can we apply them today? Of course we could be hit back-handed in the face but there are laws now that prohibit this and legal recourse that generally prevent intelligent people from inexplicably and impulsively hitting you. How else can it be applied? Right now I am thinking in places like jury duty and other social requirements that inconvenience us but usually serve the greater good. Go proudly and joyously to something like jury duty which is vastly easier than carrying a soldiers armor one (or two) miles. When confronted by hostilities, walking away is always an option. Sure it will wound your pride but that is what the Devil is hoping will trigger you--your pride. Exploding in anger is easy and a sign of immaturity and mental weakness.

Jesus asks us to expend nearly every effort to avoid the conflict but what He does not ask us to forsake is our minds. In particular the admonition to turn the other cheek is given to Jesus' disciples or those that seek to follow closely in the footsteps of their Master. The exceptions to the non-retaliation rule has to be when one becomes a civil leader and the decision to stop criminal actions or intent with pronounced punishment that ends up being perceived as violent or actually is violent. If a leader does not impose a deterrent to violent criminals society could easily be overrun with criminals intent on violence and anarchy. In these situations it is also the civil authorities that would need to arbitrate a non-violent outcome between the differences of the two parties in question in this verse...the one hitting and the one getting hit.

Again, in the end God is the only true Judge and it will be who compensates with reward or punishment on the eternal scale of things in the end. We need to leave the justice and vengence to theonly one true Judge and the Avenger.

"Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Romans 12:19

“It is God who avenges me, and subdues the peoples under me; He delivers me from my enemies. You also lift me up above those who rise against me; You have delivered me from the violent man.” Psalm 18:47

"Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly." ~Deuteronomy 32:35

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