“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 an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.Matthew 5:38-48
A desire for revenge and a disdain for one’s enemies come very naturally to most of us. In fact, we already exhibit such behavior as little children. When a child is pushed by another, he reflexively pushes back in retaliation. After being questioned about his reaction, he would claim there’s nothing wrong with it—the other child got what he deserved and it’s only fair. When a child is often antagonised by another, he would instinctively avoid his source of aggravation. There’s no reason for him to be nice to his antagonist. Not only do we naturally demand an eye for an eye and hate our enemies, it’s through revenge that we find our hatred for our enemies sated. It’s no wonder that revenge flicks like John Wick and Kill Bill are popular at the box office! We relish seeing the bad guys being served the punishment they deserve from the suffering protagonist.
Yet, Jesus claims that such stances toward our antagonists have no place in the Kingdom of God. To the world, they may be expected behavior, but Christians are to transcend the expectations of the world: we are to avoid retaliation or revenge, but remain vulnerable to our antagonists and do good to them; we are to love as God loves, showing care for our enemies even as God always shows his care for both the just and the unjust. In going beyond our antagonists’ expectations, we become witnesses of God’s amazing love to the world.
This may be a tall order for many of us because it goes against the grain of our fallen selves, but Jesus himself walked the talk. When he went to the cross, he neither retaliated against his captors nor instructed his disciples to take up revenge. On the cross, he forgave those who crucified him. While we were still enemies of God, Jesus died for us, righteous for the unrighteousness, so that we may be reconciled to him. Therefore, for those of us who have been reconciled to God through him and call ourselves his disciples, we must also live and love beyond expectations as he did. So that, somehow, through our stance of non-retaliation and love, evildoers might perceive the reconciling embrace of our Lord and be moved to repentance.