Alrighty then, here we are with another difficult teaching of Jesus Christ.
Before we delve briefly into it, I want you to do something for me.
Most of us have read the teachings of Christ too often, so that they don’t strike us afresh any longer.
I want you to try to restore a fresh perspective when you read the passage below, so you can see the text in its simplest form, devoid of your built-up preconceptions and prejudices.
So try to empty your thoughts of what you’ve been taught over the years about Christ’s teachings.
When your opinion, or the opinions of others who have taught you about this passage raise themselves up in your mind, even while you read the passage, have the self-control to hold them at bay.
Read the passage as if it is the first time you have ever read it.
Read the passage raw.
You can apply your interpretation of it again later, but just for now, just read the words, don’t try to figure out their meaning.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42
Did the key words catch your attention?
Do not resist an evil person.
Again, don’t apply your interpretation to it yet, let the words speak for themselves. They aren’t complicated.
In the Greek we have:
Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη· Ὀφθαλμὸν ἀντὶ ὀφθαλμοῦ καὶ ὀδόντα ἀντὶ ὀδόντος. 39 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ· ἀλλ’ ὅστις σε ῥαπίζει εἰς τὴν δεξιὰν σιαγόνα, στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην· 40 καὶ τῷ θέλοντί σοι κριθῆναι καὶ τὸν χιτῶνά σου λαβεῖν, ἄφες αὐτῷ καὶ τὸ ἱμάτιον· 41 καὶ ὅστις σε ἀγγαρεύσει μίλιον ἕν, ὕπαγε μετ’ αὐτοῦ δύο. 42 τῷ αἰτοῦντί σε δός, καὶ τὸν θέλοντα ἀπὸ σοῦ δανίσασθαι μὴ ἀποστραφῇς
Attempting myself to translate that particular phrase I end up with:
“but I say to you do not stand against a wicked person”
ἀντιστῆναι – resist or stand against could also be translated using these words and terms: oppose/hold your ground/forcefully declare one’s personal conviction/ardently withstand, without giving up/to strongly resist an opponent
τῷ πονηρῷ – bad, of a bad nature or condition; interpreted here to mean bad in an ethical sense, so evil, wicked or bad, someone who does you harm. The same word is used to describe an evil spirit in Matthew 12:39, 45, Matthew 16:4 and Luke 11:29 – (πνεῦμα πονηρόν) and this word is also often used to refer to the devil – the evil one: Matthew 5:37, Matthew 6:13, Matthew 13:19, 38; Luke 11:4, John 17:15, 1 John 2:13, 1 John 3:12, 1 John 5:18f.
So to paraphrase: don’t do anything to stop a nasty/hateful/wicked person from harming you.
These are the raw words of Jesus Christ, according to the Bible.
Where does that leave us?
OK, try not to apply your interpretation yet, I want to walk over a little more before you do.
This passage comes amidst a set of teachings which confirm that Christ has come fulfill the Law and the Prophets, rather than to get rid of them. These passages are teaching us how we are supposed to fulfill God’s requirements while we live here on earth. Part of that teaching is what we are looking at here. Jesus is telling us that, even though we have the right to stand up for ourselves and act in self-defense, he and God want us to choose not to.
How does that sit with you?
I think this passage is a very difficult one for many Christians. It goes against the grain of our natural fight-or-flight response. Jesus tells us not to fight and not to flee, but instead just to stand and take the evil being dished out to us.
Not only does this teaching go against our own internal natural instinct on a personal level, it goes against the culture of most of the civilizations we live in.
The second amendment of the constitution of the United States states that:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
If we’re going to take the teaching of Jesus Christ seriously here, do we have to choose not to apply the constitution to our own lives? For non-U.S. citizens, would it mean that we willingly forgo the right to defend ourselves?
Jesus was given the right to defend himself by Pontius Pilate when he was brought before him to answer to the Jewish religious authorities of Jerusalem, but he chose not to use this right because he was actually living according to his own teaching.
When we try to layer interpretations on this verse, which water down the raw message, we come up against the rest of the passage. Not only does Jesus say these words, but he re-enforces them with three examples just to make sure we do not misunderstand his intent.
1 If someone hits, you let them hit you more. Don’t resist physical evil against you.
2) If someone sues you , let them sue you and give them more than they ask for. Don’t resist legal evil against you.
3) If someone forces you to do something, do more than he forces you to do. Don’t resist evil against your will.
I don’t see much of a comeback from that position. He puts his point across very clearly.
I’m left in a quandry though. I might be able to passively let an evil person do evil unto me myself, but what if I came home to find my daughter being raped?
I don’t think I could obey this command of Christ then.
This teaching of Christ is very difficult.
UPDATE: As usually happens with me once I write something down, I have more thoughts on the topic afterwards.
Firstly, I think this teaching must have boundaries. If someone forced me to renounce my faith and to curse God, that would be going against Christ’s teaching to love God with all my heart, so the teaching that says I should love God would override this teaching.
I also think the fact that Jesus told us to love our neighbor would mean that when we see someone else coming to harm, we should step in and show active love for them by protecting them. So for me to allow someone like my daughter from being harmed without trying to help her would not be in God’s will, at least in my opinion.
Secondly, I think the point of Christ’s teaching to not resist an evil person is to teach us to trust God for our protection and to seek to rely on him as our shield and our protector. It is also a way of breaking the cycle of violence and destruction we see in the world. Most importantly though when we follow this teaching we are reflecting the character of Jesus Christ and bringing glory to God.