Lent, Day 13 — There Is No Cosmic Balance

Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
There is no cosmic balance

You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well.  When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.
(Matthew 5:38-42)

  1. Walter Wink’s interpretation of these verses has become popular recently. He points out that this passage does not tell Jesus-followers to be doormats, but to engage in “non-violent resistance.” In Wink’s interpretation, offering the other cheek is the opposite of cowering or submitting. It is a challenge. We should think about a young Captain America getting up after a beating and saying, “I can do this all day.” Going the second mile and giving your coat are ways of calling attention to oppressive behavior and publicly shaming the oppressor. All of this makes more sense when you think about the way Jesus’s people were living under Roman occupation.
  2. While I’m a fan of Wink’s interpretation, I’m also skeptical of over-politicizing the passage.
  3. Jesus begins with the “Law of Retaliation.” An eye for an eye was intended to limit how much revenge a person was allowed to take. Justice meant balancing the cosmic scales: you do to others as they do to you.
  4. But Jesus ends with “Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.” He is no longer talking about revenge. He’s addressing the whole notion of cosmic balance: it doesn’t exist.
  5. In other words, justice is not about balancing the cosmic scales or about making sure you get what you are owed. Forget the idea of deserving and owing. Our society is constantly caught up in making an accounting of who owes what to whom, and trying to tip the scales in our favor.
  6. Jesus is about to make a big rhetorical move here, which he has been setting up over the past several verses. Keep in mind, we’re still talking about raising the bar — not just doing what the Bible says, but understanding why it says what it says. So even if the Bible says “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” there is a bigger principle at work.
  7. The bigger principle is love and its ability to heal the world. If we’re all worried about the cosmic balance and getting our due (and giving people what they deserve), we’ll miss what God is offering us.
There is a different way to follow Jesus. We’re trying to live it and teach it. Support Saint Junia financially so we can keep it up!