Show no pity! That was the prevailing worldview in Jesus’ day. For nearly fifteen hundred years, the rule had been, “Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deut. 19:21).
As severe as that may sound, it originally prevented punishments from exceeding crimes. You know the old saying, “If something is worth doing it’s worth overdoing!” So the Law of Moses guarded against overdoing punishments, “ONLY one eye for one eye and ONLY one tooth for one tooth.” That much and no more.
In contrast, Jesus’ followers are to allow kindness to temper retribution. Kindness derails the chain reaction of ever-increasing retaliation.
I’m no master gardener, but I do like my lawn to look nice. We once lived in a place where lawns were under attack from something called Necrotic Ring Spot. The disease would start as a small dead spot in the lawn that would gradually expand outward killing the grass inside the expanding circle. And there was nothing you could do to stop it. That is until the agriculture experts at Washington State University came up with a Necrotic Ring Spot resistant grass seed. To treat the lawn, you punched thousands of small holes in the lawn with a machine called an aerator. Then you scattered the seed across the lawn and into the holes. And it was a miracle. The new seed resisted the disease and took over the lawn with disease-resistant health. Jesus teaches us to resist hostility by sowing seeds of kindness.
In Jesus’ case he offered three examples: an injury to the body (if someone strikes you on the right cheek), an injury to property (if someone sues you for your cloak), and an injury to liberty (if someone forces you to walk one mile). And in each case Jesus counsels kindness.
Jesus still wants us to resist injury and injustice. We are still bound to defend the defenseless. But Jesus asks us to sow kindness and mercy into our response. Whenever it is possible, take a step back from punishing to the full extent of the law. So in response to injury and hostility go ahead and retain your legal counsel, but remember, the greater power will always be found in showing kindness. From the cross, Jesus will testify to that. When trouble comes, sow compassion. Sow kindness. And pray for miracles.
Think and Pray
What things are likely to happen when the punishment exceeds the crime? On the other hand, when response to injury is surprisingly kind, what are some likely outcomes? When have others responded to your mistakes and missteps with grace and kindness?
Heavenly Father, I see, but only in part, that you have not given me what I deserve because of my sin but have offered grace. Your grace has turned my life around. When injustice and injury come my way, help me respond with grace and kindness that turns the injustice and injury away from evil and toward the good. Amen.
Published by The High Calling. Theology of Work Project Online Materials by The High Calling are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Dave Peterson is an ordained pastor who is the Director of Community Outreach for The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation and Scholarly Advisor for the H. E. Butt Family Foundation. He is the author of Receiving and Giving, Unleashing the Bless Challenge in Your Life. Dave and his wife, Terri, have four adult children and four grandchildren.