This is the second post in a three-part series. Dr. Kim originally delivered his messages at First Presbyterian Church in August, Georgia, for the church’s 2015 Bible and Missionary Conference. Read the first part here.
“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 the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
Matthew 5:38-42 (ESV)
Jesus not only confronts the matter of our hearts that are prone to hate, he moves on in our text to express the expectations he has for those who want to follow the true meaning of the law.
A second theme Jesus articulates in this passage is expectation. In verses 38-42, he calls on us to not retaliate when provoke but to give up our all – especially our hearts. Remember, these are illustrations to reveal his expectations of our hearts. In verses 38-42 he gives four implicit commands (through illustration) to reveal the radical nature of his expectations.
First, turn the other cheek.
Jesus pictures a man being slapped on the right cheek. Two things are significant about this. First, such a blow was more an insult than a violent crime. It was an insult of massive proportions. Why? It was a strike with the back of the hand, something still regarded as grossly offensive in the Near East. Did you know that the fine for such an insult exceeded the average man’s wages for an entire year? Second, it was an insult for which the only recourse was to take a man to court, as people might do today for libel or defamation of character.
So what does Jesus mean here when he says, “Turn the other cheek?” Surely he’s not saying that his follower should deliberately put himself in the way of further suffering. No, Jesus is challenging them in this figurative way that to stand on our own rights and seek to have our dignity reaffirmed – even in the face of a violent offense – is not the right response. I wonder what the disciples were thinking as they heard Jesus that day.
Second, give away your cloak.
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Here Jesus pictures a man in court being sued for his tunic. In the first century legal context, the tunic, or what we would call our undershirt, would serve as a guarantee of payment. To this Jesus adds give away your cloak as well. What is he saying? The point of the saying makes sense when we remember that the outer coat of the Jew was virtually sacred. Remember the amazing “technicolor dreamcoat” that Joseph’s brothers were jealous of? Well, if the outer cloak were taken as a financial pledge, it had to be returned before nightfall, because for some, it served as both body clothing and bed clothing.
Again Jesus’ point is that when his followers meet with opposition and persecution, they should not stand on their legal rights. Instead of retaliating back with sin, those who desire to follow Jesus give up all that they hold dear – in this case their outer cloak. After all, love covers over a multitude of sins. “Lord, increase our faith!”
Third, go the extra mile.
This phrase is understandable once again if we understand the context and background of the time of writing. The Roman army that occupied Palestine had the right to force any Jew to assist them and carry their armor for a certain distance – but not one step more. The Jews hated this practice more than anything else, because it publicly illustrated the humiliation of being a subjugated people. We can easily imagine how the Romans must have abused this right.
To the shock of many listening, Jesus says here that when you are “drafted” for service and have walked the thousand paces required by the Roman regulations, keep going. Carry the load one more mile! No soldier had the right to make someone do that. But Jesus says, do it voluntarily.
Lastly, give to those who borrow or beg.
Giving to those who ask to borrow or giving to those who beg was not a legal duty for these early disciples. They were under no obligation to give. And yet, Jesus is showing them that the same law that restrains evil is also meant to teach us to express a lifestyle of grace that is the opposite of forbidden sin – to give up our all.
Interestingly, in the first three illustrations, Jesus pictures us in positions of disadvantage. Now, we are in the position of advantage, with someone below us seeking to borrow or beg. Here Jesus is again revealing what his expectations are – our hearts should be such that whether we are in positions of disadvantage or of advantage, we express kingdom love from the inside out. Thus, the true expression of the law of equity is found in the intentional yielding up of not only our rights, but our very all – indeed, loving with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Only when we show gracious love and sacrifice for our enemies will they see what the God-given meaning of the law really is. Perhaps then they will understand that our citizenship is in heaven and not in Palestine, Rome, Korea, or even America.
Turn the other cheek.
Give up your cloak.
Go the extra mile.
Give to those who borrow or beg.
These are Jesus’ expectations. This is what he means by “Do not resist an evil person.” This is the expression of kingdom Love. Shocking though it was to those first hearers, Jesus teaching here in Matthew 5 would eventually produce men and women who would turn the world upside down for his kingdom. It included eleven ordinary guys who at first couldn’t have understood what Jesus was talking about, but ultimately discovered the key: the confrontation of sin, and the expectation of the law could only be transformed by a sinless substitute who would pay the penalty for our sins to love our enemies, but would also provide the power to truly love.
Dr. Julius Kim is the dean of students and associate professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California. His also serves a church calling as associate pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church in Escondido. Prior to Westminster Seminary California, Dr. Kim served in a variety of ecclesiastical and academic settings. He is a graduate of Vanguard University, Westminster Seminary California, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.