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Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time. The reading is from Gospel of Matthew 5:38-42.

The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch, 1890

Teaching about Retaliation – Matthew 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, 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.

These Old Testament commandments,

  • 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 21:23-25)

and

  • Anyone who inflicts a permanent injury on his or her neighbor shall receive the same in return: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The same injury that one gives another shall be inflicted in return. (Leviticus 24:19-20)

were meant to moderate vengeance; the punishment should not exceed the injury done. But, Jesus forbids even this proportionate retaliation.

Of the five examples that follow, namely,

  1. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.
  2. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.
  3. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.
  4. Give to the one who asks of you, and
  5. Do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

only the first deals directly with retaliation for evil; the others speak of liberality.

According to the Old Testament it is a disgrace if someone is slapped.

  • To offer one’s cheek to be struck, to be filled with disgrace. (Lamentations 3:30)

However, Jesus tells his audience,

  • When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” (Matthew 5:39b)

Also, in the “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke, we find similar verses

  • To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. (Luke 6:29-30)

Jesus’ words:

  • “Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” ((Matthew 5:42)

is clearly an echo of

  • If one of your kindred is in need in any community in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor close your hand against your kin who is in need. Instead, you shall freely open your hand and generously lend what suffices to meet that need. (Deuteronomy 15:7–8)

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