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Lex talionis an eye for an eye

In Matthew 5:38 Jesus addressed a law that many have applied in retaliation, an eye for an eye. Legally, this is sometimes called the lex talionis. A vindictive understanding of that law is to trade bomb for bomb and life for life. This kind of tit for tat only escalates hostilities and hinders peace. A more amicable course is monetary compensation equal to an eye. It is certainly a less inflammatory approach to social justice than revenge. However, Jesus indicated an even better application of the the eye for an eye principle. As with all of Jesus’ teachings, this too is very hard to do. Jesus suggested that if we have been responsible for injury to another, go above and beyond in compensation. Jesus wants us to go further than mere justice. He wants us to create good will.

A slap on the cheek is a serious affront. A slap on the right cheek as Jesus suggested in Matthew 5:39 could refer to a backhanded slap from a right-handed person, an even more serious indignity. Rather than retaliating for insults, Jesus strangely asked his disciples to humiliate themselves by allowing further slaps. Even the business world understands that if we have a customer with a complaint, the best thing to do is to allow them to vent without interruption, to get it off their chest. In so doing, they have time to calm down, and having gotten a hearing, often become a more satisfied customer. If even the carnal world understands how to win people, by respectfully giving them opportunity to fully complain, then how much more should we take insults in order to win peace for Christ.

Christianity is a strange religion. It asks us to take a different road than that commonly traveled. It asks us to travel the road to peace.