Getting Even

Matthew 5: 38-42
1 Kgs 21: 1-16 / Ps 5: 2-7

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
(Matthew 5:39)

Revenge torments my soul and mind,
True peace and joy how can I seek?
Help me Lord in my heart to find
Your grace to turn the other cheek.

(Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

Reflection

The principle of “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” had been a practice in much of ancient times, dating back more than 2,000 years before the birth of Christ. It was meant to check the damages resulting from blood feuds between adversaries. Considered one of the oldest laws in the book, it was in fact even written in the Old Testament books of Exodus: “If injury ensues, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot…” (Ex.21:23-24); Leviticus: “Anyone who injures his neighbor shall receive the same in return, limb for limb, eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” (Lev. 24:19-20); and Deuteronomy: “Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot” (Dt.19:21). This principle was not a “law of vengeance”, but rather one of justice, because it limited the retaliation to the amount of
damage that was inflicted.

Jesus, however, teaches us that our response to an inflicted injury should go beyond the level of human justice. Instead of “getting even” on our enemies, He tells us to “get them forgiven”. He wants us to avail of His healing power of mercy. No amount of vengeance can heal the wounds of injustice as effectively as genuine mercy and forgiveness. Offering the other cheek means willing to endure the pain of an unrequited debt for the sake of a higher purpose: manifesting God’s love. Love means never to take revenge on your enemies. The June 2008 issue of Reader’s Digest tells the story of Sokreaksa Himm, a Cambodian survivor of the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, who witnessed the massacre of 33 people in his village in Siem Reap, which included his parents and brothers and sisters. When the Khmer Rouge was finally driven out by the Vietnamese army, Sokreaksa was able to flee across the Thai border, and stayed at a refugee camp. With the help of World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization, he migrated to Canada, where he was able to finish his college education and master’s degree. A former Buddhist, he was converted to Christianity by the love and compassion shown by the staff of World Vision, who helped him start a new life in Toronto, Canada. After nine years in Canada, he was requested by World Vision USA if he could go back to Cambodia, where there was a great need for Christian teachers and counselors for the victims of the Khmer Rouge. For more than 20 years he had been nursing the desire to take revenge against the villagers who murdered his family. But now, imbued with Christ’s ideals of love and mercy, he determined to take the initiative of finding the three surviving cadre members to offer them his forgiveness and release them from their guilt. He told each one of them: “By the grace of God, I forgive you… What happened in the past is now cancelled and you may go in peace.” Sokreaksa Himm was a humble man who attributed to God his ability to “turn the other cheek” for a greater good. His example helped to pave the way to his countrymen’s reconciliation, and recover from the wounds inflicted by an evil regime. In the end, Sokreaksa realized that he was so privileged to receive such righteousness from God that he found it in his heart to return good for evil.

Father God, Your Son Jesus Christ has shown us by His example that there is no alternative but to forgive our enemies if we want our sins to be forgiven as well. But it is only by Your grace that we can accomplish this, Lord, and so we pray for Your mercy. Amen.

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