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WHAT IS THE NEW KINGDOM WAY OF LIVING THAT SHOULD FLOW FROM OUR JUSTIFICATION?
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, 11th Week of the Year, June 18, 2018
1 Kings 21:1-16, Psalm 5, Matthew 5:38-42


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

Jesus said: "You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:38-39).


This is Jesus' fifth example of how he, the Messiah, fulfills the Old Testament law, making it far stricter and more interior. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" (Matthew 5:35; Exodus 21:24) was in the Old Testament a guidance intended for judges in the law courts to give sentences that were just and proportionate to the crime, not greater than the crime.


If someone comes along and knocks out your tooth, you can take him to court, and if he is convicted, his punishment will be to have his tooth also knocked out, but not all his teeth knocked out. It was God's law that there be a just punishment commensurate to the crime. Crimes should be justly punished by the state, and judges needed a written legal guidance as to how to punish criminals. The point of God's law is that there be a punishment, and that it be just, not too little and not too great.


Jesus, however, unlike the Old Testament law, was only giving advice for private individuals who are members of the kingdom of God that he has established on earth, a kingdom for all peoples of all nations everywhere, a kingdom of all who would believe in him, repent of their sins, abandon them, and trust in him for their justification, because of his atoning death on the cross in reparation for our sins.


This is the kingdom of God that Jesus is here giving new principles for. He is revising and fulfilling some of Israel's national laws to make them appropriate for an international kingdom. Jesus' laws are not state laws or national laws. They are kingdom-of-God laws. The kingdom of God is not a national state, like Israel, and Jesus' fulfillment of Old Testament laws no longer has the character of a national law of a state. So those parts of the Mosaic law that were purely national laws, meant for the state of Israel until their Messiah came, would no longer be observed between individuals within the kingdom of God.


We still have our national laws in each state, but as far as the kingdom of God is concerned, we should be moving in an area of greater perfection. We should not be seeking revenge for personal injuries done to us, especially not for insulting things that people might say to us.


This new principal, however, does not apply to the need to defend the truth, when it is being attacked, as we see again and again in the lives of both Jesus and St. Paul. Jesus vigorously defended God's truth against the scribes and Pharisees, calling them white washed sepulchers and hypocrites (Matthew 23:27, see all of Matthew 23). St. Paul also vigorously fought against those who thought they could justify themselves by their own good works (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). St. Paul's whole life was a defense of the truth of the gospel against those who tried to pervert it. So to be a Christian means to be involved in spiritual warfare, preaching the truth of the gospel and opposing and refuting those who try to deform, pervert, and corrupt it.


As far as turning the other cheek goes, perhaps Jesus is exaggerating a bit here as he does in other places, for even he doesn't exactly follow this. When he was struck during his trial, he didn't offer the other cheek to also be struck, but rather he vigorously verbally defended himself. "When he [Jesus] had said this, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?' Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?'" (John 18:22-23). Jesus, when struck on the cheek, vigorously verbaly defended himself, but he certainly didn't strike the officer back, nor should we. In that sense, he turned the other cheek.


St. Paul acted in the same way when he was on trial: "And Paul, looking intently at the council, said, ‘Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience up to this day.' And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, ‘God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?' Those who stood by said, ‘Would you revile God's high priest?' And Paul said, ‘I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, "You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people"'" (Acts 23:1-5).


St. Paul did not strike this man back, but he didn't exactly offer him the other cheek either. He vigorously verbally defended himself and actually called the high priest himself a "whitewashed wall" for ordering him struck on the mouth.


So what did Jesus mean by saying, "If any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:39)? This saying is probably similar to Jesus saying, "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell" (Matthew 5:29).


Jesus didn't really mean that we should literally gouge out our eye if it causes us to see something that tempts us. His meaning was simply that we should make a great effort and great sacrifices to avoid temptation. This saying about turning the other cheek seems to be a similar type of exaggerated statement to make an important point, namely that we shouldn't be plotting to avenge ourselves on the person who slapped or insulted us, and we certainly shouldn't get into a public fistfight over an insult or a slap.


Even the Old Testament taught something similar. Proverbs says: "Do not say, ‘I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done'" (Proverbs 24:29).


Other New Testament books also echo Jesus' teaching about turning the other cheek:


St. Paul says, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them ... Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' No, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:14, 17-21).


St. Peter says, "Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing" (1 Peter 3:9).


St. Paul says, "See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all" (1 Thessalonians 5:15).


While we all live in modern states with court systems to take care of major criminal problems for the good of society as a whole, we who are justified Christians should seek to live, in our personal daily life, as sons and daughters of the kingdom of God on earth, and the principles that we should follow in our personal Christian life are different from state laws. They are the principles of the kingdom, designed for kingdom living, for a life of perfection as justified Christians whom Christ has freed from sin and guilt and to whom he has reckoned his own righteousness through our trusting faith in him. Therefore, since we are justified by faith, not by our works (2 Timothy 1:9), because of what Christ has done for us on the cross to make reparation for our sins, what kind of life should we now live as a consequence? That is the question that Jesus is addressing today.


The result of our justification is that we should live in a radical new kingdom way, guided by kingdom values and principles. In our personal life as justified Christians, we should not be seeking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, nor should we get into a public fistfight if someone strikes us on the cheek or insults us. Rather we should live on a wholly different level as justified Christians living in the kingdom of God on earth.

 

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