Previously, we looked at some of the things that some American hold near and dear to their heart. We Americans have many things that we are quick to defend, quickly to debate, or quick to even take up fisticuffs. To these ‘rights,’ Jesus spoke in Matthew 5:38-42. Astonishingly, if would appear that Christians have no rights at all. John 15:19 says that we are not of this world … Christians are foreigners or aliens in this world. The only right I’m aware of is the right to come boldly to the throne of grace, Hebrews 4:16. According to the passage in Matthew, we have no rights to revenge. We have no rights to ‘our’ things. We have no rights to ‘our’ time. We have no rights to ‘our’ money. We have no earthly rights.
Everything that I possess are ‘on loan’ from God; it is all His. I don’t even have a right to my own paycheck! Rather, all of our relationships, all of our possessions are really God’s. Nothing that I have, nothing that I own, and nothing that I use … is mine! My children … God’s. My truck … God’s. My house … God’s. Everything, every relationship, every dollar, it is all in our possession as God trusts us with it. That being said, the best thing we can do with those things that are on loan from God is use them as Jesus did … which is to help others and advance his Father’s kingdom.
In this Matthew passage, Jesus starts off using an Old Testament process of thought, ‘an eye for an eye.’ This would have been a familiar concept to any Jewish person and is found in Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:19-20, and Deuteronomy 19:21. So, as Exodus says, welt for welt, injury for injury … this was the law. So we have to ask ourselves, what was the purpose of the law? The spiritual purpose of the law was to show our ineptitude to do good (or enough good) to atone for our sins and thereby our need of Christ, our savior. Secondly, and this is probably the purpose of any law, modern or archaic was to limit the violence, the revenge, and display of anger through judicial means. In simple language, the punishment fit the crime, which thwarted the rampant rise of crime. These were not moral laws but rather given to judges to mete out judiciously and in order. A perversion takes place when these judicious laws get taken into the subjective capacity and it began to be seen as the Pharisee’s right to get that eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth. This is evidenced in the account of the woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees were ready, and eager, (stones in hand with accusations hurled) … ready to mete out the rightful punishment. They were dogmatic in their right for retribution by citing the laws of Moses. Moses’ law were intent to keep people from taking things in to their own hands by keeping the violence on a leash in the courts.
In verse 39 of Matthew 5, Jesus shows his followers how they are to respond in personal situations. They were to lay down their rights of retribution and turn their other cheek. This is a statement on many levels. We humans have the innate sense to protect ourselves and defend our stance, so when someone back hands us in the face, when they insult us, and hurl accusations at us … we turn the other cheek. The inner unction that we each have to get even with the offender is normal, but for the one following Christ we are to be dead to our self. Those sort of behaviors (even thoughts) are not the behavior or actions of a true believer. This teaching is not for the faint of heart. In fact, the mere fact that society as a whole would baulk at such a teaching lends credibility to the depraved nature of the human heart. Verse 40 takes this concept a step further. Not only do we not have the right to defend our honor and avenge humiliation, we don’t have any rights to our possessions (or in this particular case, their tunic). In eastern culture, oftentimes the outer garment would have been more like a coat (heavy, warm, and resilient to the elements) and thereby, they would have typically only had one. It was one of those things that you could sue the pants off someone (or in this case a person’s shirt) but you legally couldn’t take their tunic. So as Christ was using this as an example, even if the law protects you, we are not to live by the rights afforded us by our earthly systems or the rights to our things, our property, our home(s), our car(s), our clothes, our food, our money, etc. None of these things are really our to cling to. Even those things that are afforded us as protected rights by law we are not to cling to but be willing to relinquish as needed. We are citizens of a different kingdom, the kingdom of God, which trumps that of being a citizen of the U.S. The next two verses push this new concept for the Jew (and me) even further. Jesus uses an illustration that the Jewish people would have been all too familiar with … being forced by a Roman soldier to tote the Roman’s possessions. The Jewish person would have to drop what they were doing, and alter their plans to fulfill the desires of the Roman soldier (someone you really have come to despise). Being forced to serve their enemy. Being forced to put your own priorities aside for those of your enemy. Then Jesus says, not only do you have to do that for the first mile, I want you to happily go with him another mile. Citizens of the heavenly kingdom are not bound by the timelines and priorities of this earthly kingdom. We are not entitled to have our plans, our resources, our schedules go the way we want them. Maybe this is what Christ was meant when he told us to love our enemies and to bless those that despitefully use us. We can’t be nasty when people call us and take up ‘our valuable’ time. We can’t get all bent out of shape when we are asked to make a big adjustment at work or when we are given extra work to do when we weren’t expecting it. It is not about us. It is about God and whom we belong to.
Disciples of Christ aren’t entitled to convenience. It is not about us. It is all about Him. In these five verses of Matthew, Jesus is exposing our pride. This pride is evidenced by the legalism in our hearts. Legalism is all about making things ‘fair.’ However, what Jesus was after, he says that we don’t have any rights. The way of Christ is the way of dying to our self.
In conclusion, I am thinking of one of the items at the beginning … did Jesus fight for true love or did he lay down his rights, his life, for true love? Isn’t this how we, his followers, are to be too?
Until later . . . Jonathan Watson
P.S. To see this series in it’s entirety, click the tag ‘Right or Rights.’ To see a little more about me, click here or about my overall blog, check this out. I love feedback (and work best with lots of it) so, please feel free to REPLY to anything I’ve written. Just scroll down to the “Leave a Reply” box and type away! Thanks!