An Eye for an Eye
38"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Clean and Unclean
1Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2"Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!"
3Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' 5But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' 6he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.
Many Christians interpret the Sermon on the Mount the same way the Amish do. Mind you, I notice that most of them don’t live the same way the Amish do. Somehow they manage to combine Amish theology with a middleclass lifestyle. But I’ll pass on that for now.
There are two fundamental flaws in this approach to the text:
1.It misconstrues the nature of human communication. The fact that a speaker doesn’t introduce a lot of caveats into everything he says doesn’t mean that he expects you to take everything he says without qualification.
Speakers generally say less than they mean. Because they usually become to the same culture as their audience, they share an unspoken level of common understanding. So they take certain things for granted.
The Sermon on the Mount does not exhaust Jesus’ teaching on social ethics. Moreover, he was addressing a Jewish audience. An audience steeped in OT law and rabbinical tradition. That’s an operating assumption which he brings to this discourse. His audience is expected to understand these OT allusions and rabbinical allusions. He doesn’t need to explain everything to them. He can leave many things unstated. Their cultural preunderstanding is the springboard for his correctives.
BTW, Jason has also made some judicious observations about the nature of human communication in the combox:
2.Let’s compare the first Matthean text with the second Matthean text. In the first, he is talking about our duty to our enemies—and in the second, our duty to our parents.
Notice, in the second text, that he introduces the theme of higher obligations. It was a Jewish duty to support the religious establishment. But it was also a Jewish duty to support your parents. And your duty to your parents was a higher duty. In case of conflict, the higher duty suspends the lower. Caring for your parents takes precedence over subsidizing the religious establishment.
Here’s another example:
34"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
" 'a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law –
36a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'
37"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Here our obligation to God is higher than our obligation to our own family, and—in case of conflict—the higher duty overrides the lower.
Notice, too, that in this text, our family members are our enemies. Yet loving God takes precedence over loving our enemies in this particular situation.
In Scripture, our social obligations are stratified. Our obligation to God is our only unconditional obligation. All other duties are conditional duties—with degrees of obligation.
The duty to love our enemies is a prima facie duty, but not an absolute duty. Suppose a man were to break into your parents’ home and take them hostage. And suppose you have a chance to shoot him. What should you do?
Should you love your enemy? But if, in this situation, you love your enemy, you thereby dishonor your parents.
You have an obligation both to love your enemy and to honor your parents. But not all duties are coequal. And not all duties can be discharged simultaneously.
In this situation, loving your mother and father takes precedence over loving your enemy. In this situation, you can’t do the loving thing for your parents and your enemy alike.
And that’s because your enemy won’t let you. He has created a situation in which you must choose. And the moral imperative is clear.
To some extent, differing circumstances differentiate our duties. All other things being equal, you should love your enemy; but all things considered, there are situations in which loving your enemy takes a backseat to loving someone else by protecting the victim from the assailant.