“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 the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
The main point of this passage is that followers of Jesus Christ are to show love and yield some of our rights for the sake of the gospel. Here Jesus gives a non-comprehensive list of the rights we are to forgo. They describe the type of character God desires for us to have.
Contrary to what we might think, He is not describing a physical attack, but rather a very traditional, calculated insult. Notice that Jesus specifically mentions the “the right check,” which tells us he is describing a backhanded slap (since most people are right-handed). According to rabbinic law, to hit someone with the back of the hand was twice as insulting as hitting him with the flat of the hand. The back of the hand meant calculated contempt, withering disdain. It meant that you were scorning the person as inconsequential—a nothing.
Instead of insisting on our right, we are to yield to them, specifically our imagined right to retaliate. We do this so that the preaching of the gospel might not be hindered. As believers we will be abused, we will be persecuted, but we are not to fight back. We are not to get even.
Second, we yield our rights to possessions. The tunic was an undergarment, and the cloak was an outer garment that also served as a blanket at night. Most people of that day owned only one cloak and probably only one or two shirts. It was the outer garment, the cloak that Mosaic law required be returned to its owners.
What does this mean for us? Well, it refers to our property, our homes, automobiles, clothes, food, and other things. It tells us that these things are not ours to hold and guard jealously. Instead, we must recognize that all that we have comes from the Lord and is to be used for HIs glory. Furthermore, in verse 42, Jesus commands us to be generous with our belongings and to give to those who are in need.
Roman law gave the soldier the right to force a civilian to carry his pack for one milion, a Roman mile, which was slightly shorter than our modern mile. The law, designed to relieve the soldier, not only caused great inconvenience to civilians but added further insult by forcing the oppressed to carry the weapons of the oppressors.
In our modern day, the follower of Christ ought to have an attitude of a willing servant. We are not to show annoyance and resent those who demand our time. When called upon, we ought to resemble Simon of Cyrene, who willfully carried the cross of Jesus Christ.
Let us all have the character God desires for us by forgoing our rights for the furtherance of the gospel.