Jesus again uses the formula “You have heard x, but I tell you x.” Starting to see a pattern? You think that Jesus is trying to debunk everything that they have learned about the Law? Sort of a “Lawbusters” episode where He picks one of the Mosaic Laws and puts it to the test like Adam and Jamie do?
No not at all. Remember He started this sermon by saying that He didn’t “come to destroy but to fulfill” the law. (5:17)
This section of the sermon Jesus is pointing out that we should go the “second mile”. In other words, we are not only to meet the needs of those that are in need but go one step further.
First, Jesus pulls the Law that is the subject that deals with victims that have been wronged. The “eye for an eye” has been in ancient law for ages. Hammurabi included it and many other countries have used this as part of their “court system” of governing justice. Jesus takes this Law that they know very well and practice, and he tells them to “turn the other cheek”. This is one of the more familiar saying in Christianity. This has been interpreted many times and in many different ways. I have heard that it is in place so that the Christian can hold a peace for a minute to prevent an instant outburst. Some would even add that you only have two cheeks, if it happened again then the Christian is verified in retaliation. But in the “Rule of Hermeneutic” we know that in order to properly interpret this for meaning we have to look at the context.
Second Jesus tells us that if someone sue us for our shirt then we are to give him our coat as well. Why would someone sue for our shirt. Hopefully no one during this day and age but back then it was understood that one could sue for shirts and coats. This was also the maximum you could sue for. People in those days didn’t have many pieces of clothing as we do. If one was sued for both the shirt AND coat it was everything. Plus if the person sued for the coat and it was cold that night. The person could freeze (it gets real cold in desert terrain at night) and die. If this were to happen the person who sued for the coat was considered liable for that person’s death.
Third, Jesus refers to the Roman rule that if a Roman soldier asked a civilian to carry his equipment He only could require one mile of him. This was so that the Roman soldier could be at fighting strength after traveling long distances. However, he could not require that civilian to go no more than one mile. It could be out of the way for the civilian but the trade off was the security in knowing the soldier was in a sense protecting the civilian from invaders. At least that was the idea. Jesus here points out that we are to go an extra mile. Even if it is out of our way.
Lastly, Jesus says that we are not to turn away anyone who wants to borrow and even tells us to give to those who ask. Historically, banking has always charged an interest on borrowed money. It is done for the time the money is away. That borrowed money could be used for investing for a gain. If it is loaned out that gain no longer is a potential unless interest is applied to the borrower. See how that works. So, Jesus addresses that we are to be generous by giving to those who ask for help and loan to those who want to borrow. There is a difference. If someone is asking for money, they aren’t planning on repayment necessarily. But the one who asks for a loan is intending to pay back with interest.
What does all this mean? The law was not given to exact revenge, but to legislate justice. Breaking the law has consequences, but personal vengeance has no place. These passages have often been wrongly taken as a minimum guideline for retaliation. What Jesus clarifies is that they were always intended as a maximum or a ceiling for retaliation, and that mercy was always an acceptable intention underlying these laws.
For us, legalistically “letting the punishment fit the crime” and insisting upon a “eye for an eye” falls short. We must actually consider blessing the those that wrong us. Mercy (withholding deserved punishment) and grace (giving undeserved gifts) are legitimate forms of conduct.