One of the oldest laws in human history is the Lex Talionis, otherwise known as the principle of retributive justice. It appears in both the Torah and Hammurabi’s Code, and is based on the belief that only by “equitable retribution” can an offended or injured person ever achieve real justice. We know the principle best by the phrase, “an eye for an eye.”
In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that, while the Lex Talionis has always been an acceptable and prescribed means of ensuring justice, practicing it doesn’t make us better people, and it doesn’t make the world a better place. Jesus believed we could do better: turn the other cheek, give your accuser your coat, go the extra mile, love your enemies and pray for your oppressor…
Anyone who has ever been abused, or wrongfully accused, or persecuted will find this teaching of Jesus seemingly impossible, even outrageous. But to Jesus (who, incidentally, was abused, falsely accused, and persecuted), it was life and freedom. Instead of allowing the actions of others to determine our next move, Jesus’ way invites us to respond in every circumstance, in every challenge, according to the nature and character of God, who never gives up on us regardless of how hopeless we might appear to be.
Such a response will likely cost us something – our pride, our cherished dignity, our need to be right, or our thirst for justice. It may require us to go the extra mile, or turn the other cheek, or give up our coat. But these are small things in the end because, in an “eye for an eye” world, it means that everyone gets to keep their eyes, and their souls.
See you Sunday,