Turn the Other Cheek (1 of 2)

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Q. What does Matt 5:38-42 “turn the other cheek” mean as applied to our time? A commentator says Jesus was showing the lower social strata how to live under Roman rulers. I have been told that it means not to retaliate against the evil doer or do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Rom 12:21

Taking it literally and applying it to present time, I think there are other Christian ways to avoid the confrontation. The peacemaker in Matt 5:9 would apologize or say something diplomatic to the evil doer who would then stop hitting. If the evil doer hits without any reason, the peacemaker could run away to avoid further confrontation and harm. To offer the other cheek is a provocation, daring the evil doer to hit again. Am I off the track?

Give the outer garment – Jesus says to keep the laws of the country. By giving into lawlessness would be contradicting the law!?

A. First note the context. Jesus’ instructions were to contrast what the OT law said, which the Pharisees misinterpreted (5:38), with what God wanted (5:39-42). So what was originally intended?

“Eye for eye, tooth for tooth” is a quotation from 3 passages:
Ex 21:24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
• Lev 24:20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him.
• Deut 19:21 Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

The law’s intention was to:
• Fit the punishment to the crime,
Limit the punishment to the crime, to control excesses.
It was the guide given to judges to execute justice. The Pharisees, however, misapplied it to individuals taking matters into their own hands. Sinful men have a tendency to revenge. The extreme example is Lamech, who wanted to avenge seventy-sevenfold:
Gen 4:23-24 Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, Listen to my voice, You wives of Lamech, Give heed to my speech, For I have killed a man for wounding me; And a boy for striking me; If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”
The Pharisees turned this law into an obligation for the victim to demand his rights to retaliate. The OT law was actually good in restricting going overboard, but the Pharisees turned it into a duty to avenge oneself.

Now what did Jesus mean? Let’s read the text in
Mt 5:38-42 “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

First, what Jesus didn’t mean in v 39. He could not have meant let an evil person do whatever he wants unchecked, because that would have been contrary to God’s nature to judge sin. It also contradicts what He Himself did while on earth e.g.
Jn 2:14-15 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables;

Then what did He mean? Notice the details “slaps you on the right cheek”. The average person is right-handed. For him to slap you on the right cheek he would have to slap you back-hand, which was a great insult in Jesus’ days. According to
Mishnah Bava Kamma 8:6 (Jewish oral tradition) One who slaps his fellow, he gives him two hundred zuz; with the back of the hand, he gives him four hundred zuz.
i.e. the fine is doubled.
The issue was not just physical assault, but contempt. Jesus was asking His disciples not to retaliate against personal insult, but to leave it in God’s hands.

(To be continued)

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The Prodigal Son’s Older Brother

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Q. In the parable of the Prodigal Son I understand the father forgiving his younger son and showing him grace. But what about the older brother? The parable left us hanging without knowing what happened in the end. What’s your view?

A. First, let’s look at the context:
Lk 15:1-2 Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus responded by telling them three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. So from the context we know that the Prodigal Son has to do with correcting the Pharisees and scribes for not receiving sinners.

Secondly, let’s examine the text to see what it says about the older brother. He was mentioned in passing in Lk 15:11, but became the focus of attention in v 25-32. Taking everything at face value, my observations are as follows:

His Positive Traits:
• Hardworking v 25 his older son was in the field, presumably working
• Obedient v 29 For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours
• Loyal v 31 you have always been with me
These are commendable qualities.

His Negative Characteristics:
• Angry v 28 he became angry, first with his brother
• Bears grudge v 28 was not willing to go in
• Self-righteous v 29 For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours
• Jealous in comparing himself to others v 29 yet you have never given me a young goat
• Unforgiving; no love for his brother v 30 this son of yours vs. his father’s v 32 this brother of yours. His brother means less to him than celebrating with his friends.
• Angry with father v 30 you killed the fattened calf for him.
The negatives tell where his heart was, and far outweigh the positives which looked so good on the surface.

Now my interpretation:
• It is quite obvious that in the parable the father represents God, the older brother the Pharisees and scribes, and the younger brother the tax collectors and sinners.
• The attitude of the two sons are mirrored in the parable of the Pharisee and Publican in Lk 18:9-14.
• The older brother is self-righteous and looked down on his younger brother – Lk 18:9, 11-12 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt … The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ Compare his “I serve”, “I never neglect”. He was angry even with his father, who did everything graciously (see below) and represented the perfect Heavenly Father.
• The younger brother is truly repentant – Lk 18:13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ Compare Lk 15:18-19 Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men. (Also v 21) He was justified rather than his brother. (Compare Lk 18:14)
• The parable of the Prodigal Son is open-ended because Jesus wanted the Pharisees and scribes to learn to be like the Father, compassionate (v 20), forgiving (v 22), joyful when his child repents (v 23-24, 32), reaching out even to self-righteous sinners (v 28 pleading), generous (v 31 all that is mine is yours), but He left the choice to them. He will not impose His will on them, even though it’s for their own good.

Lastly, application:
• Who do you identify with in the parable? Do you see yourself as the prodigal son, a sinner not worthy to be called the Father’s child, but grateful for the grace bestowed on you?
• Or do you see yourself as the older brother, trusting in your good deeds and even faulting the Father for being too kind to sinners, not realizing that the very thing you are proud of is what disqualifies you from being justified.
• A few may identify with the father in the parable, in which case “Congratulations!” You have learned to see the world through your Father’s eyes and feel through His heart. He loves His children and welcomes them anytime they repent. Hope we all learn that.