A popular bumper sticker reads, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” We think that “an eye for an eye” means, “Yeah, I get to pop you back because you popped me first.”
The Pharisees taught this erroneous perspective, but the original intent of the law was to prevent an unjust judgment: if someone got one tooth knocked out, he couldn’t retaliate by knocking out two. So again Jesus corrected them: “I tell you not to resist an evil person, but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (5:39).
How Do We Do It?
This sounds impossible. How do we do it? Jesus told us: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (5:44). This is a tough one, isn’t it? I know that I don’t want to pronounce blessing on someone who cuts me off and shouts obscenities at me while I’m driving. I’m ready to go into road rage mode and chase him down the street.
But again, Jesus’ words are not for just any people. They are for His followers, for those people who have the Spirit of God living in them. He knows that we can’t live these things out on our own. We must let the Spirit of God overrule our natural tendencies and help us to bless that angry driver.
All over the world today, Christians are in prison, tortured, kicked out of their homes or communities, and threatened with death. To love and bless their captors must be extremely challenging. We have to believe that if and when this kind of difficulty comes to us, God will give us what we need to love our enemies. That’s the work of the Spirit.
We Are God’s Children
Why does Jesus say that we are to love our enemies? “That you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (5:45). We are God’s children, and we are to behave like our Father. And God is kind to His enemies: “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (5:45).
Listen to what Jesus says: “If you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (5:46). In the mind of the Jew, the tax collector was the worst guy around. If all we do is what they did, it’s not much. We’re to be different. Maybe you’ve tried several times to greet somebody in your neighborhood who’s been rude to you. After a while, you thought, I’m not going to greet that bum; I’m going to be rude back. I’ve done that. But the Lord says, “If you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others?” (5:47).
This standard is daunting. We might look at this and at ourselves and think, Lord, am I even saved? But we are saved—by Somebody else, because we couldn’t save ourselves. Even as saved people, we’re in desperate need of God’s help, and this is what His Spirit does.
As Jesus wound up this portion of the sermon, He said, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (5:48). The word “perfect” could be translated “complete” or “mature.” God’s Spirit in us says, “Okay, you need to change, and I’m going to help you. Say hi to that guy in your neighborhood, and don’t worry about how he responds. Just do it.” God is slowly but surely shaping us into the image of Christ.
Jesus here, as He did in the Beatitudes, is giving us a picture of the character of the Christian. He’s restating the true intent of the law. Remember, it’s revolutionary living that Jesus is talking about. He’s looking to radically transform us so that people will look at us and discover Him and be radically changed as well.