Jesus says to his disciples,
“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” (Matthew 5:38).
This eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth justice was first instituted by Moses to moderate vengeance, “[…] But if injury ensues, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe,” (Exodus 21:23-27).
The term the ancient Israelites used for this form of justice is talion which means, “The principle that punishment should be equivalent or identical to the offense committed.” It was considered merciful justice in comparison to other nations who would kill an entire tribe over an offense committed by one of them.
“But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow,” (Matthew 5:39-42).
Is the Old Testament God different from the God of the New Testament?
It sounds as if God is contradicting himself by commanding one way through Moses and now a different way here. He is not. Moses served on behalf of God as judge and dispenser of his Law and Jesus is God: the Divine Judge and Giver of the Law.
Jesus goes further than teaching how to mitigate evil, he is training his disciples how to defeat it.
We see how fast hate multiples. Since the horrific evil perpetrated on the people of Uvalde, several copy-cat mass shootings have occurred. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen said,
“Hate is extremely fertile; it reproduces itself with amazing rapidity. How can all this hatred be stopped when one man is slapping another on the cheek? There is only one way, and that is by turning the other cheek, which means: ‘I forgive; I refuse to hate you. If I hate you, I will add my quota to the sum total of hate. This I refuse to do. I will kill your hate; I will drive it from the earth. I will love you.”
Much more painful and difficult than turning the cheek to be slapped again is to forgive one who hurts you, takes from you, or asks too much of you. How can we possibly be expected to do this?
Unity Through Forgiveness
We begin by considering Jesus’ teaching here as less a command . . . and more an invitation.
Jesus invites us into his life in the Father and Holy Spirit; the feast we just celebrated yesterday in the Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2842) explains,
“It is impossible to keep the Lord’s commandment by imitating the divine model from outside; there has to be a vital participation, coming from the depths of the heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God. Only the Spirit by whom we live can make ‘ours’ the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. Then the unity of forgiveness becomes possible and we find ourselves ‘forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave’ us.”
Nan Balfour is a grateful Catholic whose greatest desire is to make our Lord Jesus more loved. She seeks to accomplish this through her vocation to womanhood, marriage, motherhood, and as a writer, speaker and events coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope.
Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. See what’s happening & let us journey with you! Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.