Jesus enters the games room and says,
38 "You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'
39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
In Jewish law the ‘eye for eye’ was not so much of a literal practice, but an illustration of the Law of Equivalency. The premise was that punishment for a crime should match the severity of the offense or injury. The equivalent punishment should not exceed the injury sustained.
In Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus was not abrogating this important legal principle, but was rather inviting Christians in their daily lives to go beyond the letter of the law. The implicit intention of the law—to eliminate personal revenge—was stated explicitly by Jesus; and He, in His own person and ministry, modeled it for us.
Jesus called us to live in this world as peacemakers and reconcilers. The problem with ‘eye for eye’ and ‘tooth for tooth’ is everyone will lose their eyes and teeth. Jesus wants us to deal with our conflicts differently.
Jesus speaks to all of us who have had eyes gouged out by those trying to get back at us. He offers us new eyes to see with.
The Healer speaks to all of us who have had teeth knocked out by those who were trying to teach us a lesson. We can continue in the cycle of personal destruction or we can become healers who help others get new eyes and new teeth.
We are to live as ‘healers amongst the blind and toothless’.
People who get slapped in the face have often done something to trigger this response. When you get slapped you need to own any blame that belongs to you for causing offense. Then, you can offer the other cheek as a symbol of your willingness to go all the way in making things right for the other.
Not every slap in the face comes against deserving parties. “But, I am innocent! Why are they treating me this way?” What about those times when people slap you in the face for no good reason?
At the time of Jesus, striking someone deemed to be of a lower class with the back of the hand was used to assert authority and dominance. If the persecuted person "turned the other cheek," the discipliner was faced with a dilemma. The left hand was used for unclean purposes, so a backhand strike on the opposite cheek would not be performed. The other alternative would be a slap with the open hand as a challenge or to punch the person, but this was seen as a statement of equality. Thus, by turning the other cheek the persecuted was in effect demanding equality.
In these instances, offering the other cheek sends a message to the abuser. It says, “You are dangerously close to defiling yourself. If you continue down this path of abuse, you do so against a brother and not a slave.” It would be like offering your hands to be cuffed instead of resisting arrest. Turning the other cheek tells the other that you are responding with civility, not resistance.
Resisting the desire for revenge is an act of submission to higher authority. I will not take the law into my own hands but surrender this offense to those entrusted to judge in these matters. Paul taught that deference to authority is recognizing that the law is good. An abusive person is best surrendered to the authorities. Before the situation becomes criminal, you may de-escalate it when you turn the other cheek.
Jesus is teaching us to recognize insults and offenses and extend grace and patience towards those who are upset with us. Non-retaliation reveals the attitude that Jesus has toward sinners and even the abuse of authorities against him.
Revenge belongs to God. He alone is just in all His ways and near to the oppressed. Would you rather fight the battle alone or let God judge the matter for you?