Matthew 5:38-42, Exodus 21:23-25, Exodus 22:26-27, Romans 13:1-4, 1 Peter 2:21-23
The lex talionis has been called the law of retaliation: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. When I have been wronged, I have to admit, the principle of retributive justice is really appealing—the principle of the punishment fitting the crime.
Of course, Jesus undoes our self-oriented inclination to interpret the law as a means of personal vengeance. We love the idea of “getting even,” or even simply of getting credit, getting our due. If someone else steals, breaks, offends, we think we have every right to even the score. We come up with justifications in various circumstances: It’s just business. I’ve been patient enough. It serves him right. He had it coming. We rejoice when things seem to balance out again.
But any time our focus is on getting what we believe is due to us, are we not violating Christ’s command? The root of the issue Christ addresses is a heart opposed to grace, and therefore opposed to God’s law.
Remember Paul’s exposition of the law in Romans 7 and 8? Paul declares: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7).
It is this fleshly-mindedness that Christ confronts. A merely temporal vision of justice always comes up short of God’s standard. Indeed, an honest approach to the law provides no comfort for sinners. Do we really desire justice? Before the law, we stand condemned, unable to pay the balance for our sin.
But oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways (Romans 11:33.) God, rather than executing the just condemnation of the law against us, has granted mercy. To this, not to the “law of retaliation,” we must entrust ourselves. This is the sticking place for our hard hearts, because we have our own notions of justice, of what we deserve, of what we owe, of who else deserves or doesn’t deserve. We love the idea of justice only if it is our own concocted version.
But Christ, sinless, gave all of Himself for us sinners.
This is an example for us. It should pierce our self-focused hearts. It should shake us from our fixation on getting what’s ours. It should humble us, and it should fill us with thankfulness and joy.
Christ gave His example in this: His richness He freely gives to us. He has turned the other cheek, walked the second mile, clothed us with His white robes, and gives to us grace without cost. In light of this great love, how can we not also joyously do the same for others?
Written by Caleb Faires