Responding to an Adversary
Responding to an Adversary
“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
How do we respond when someone personally attacks us? When they make false accusations or verbally assault our character? The mantra today is to “stand up for your rights.” If someone has personally attacked or wronged us in any way, we are to go on the offensive and ensure that our rights are not violated and that they respect us. If we feel we are wronged by them, we must make sure they pay.
The first thing we should note in this passage is that the person is genuinely mistreated. The adversary is not just someone who has mistakenly done something against us; we are to overlook it. In this case, the person is not only clearly in the wrong, but they are motivated by evil. They have mistreated us with malicious intent and purpose. Their attacks are unwarranted and inspired by their evil desires. It is one thing to overlook an innocent mistake or offense that someone has committed. But what is our response when they have deliberately wronged us when we are clearly in the right?
In this passage, Christ refers back to the legal system established in the Old Testament of “lex telionis,” in which the punishment and retribution for a crime were to be in line with the offense. The point of the law was not to justify retaliation on a personal level but to establish a legal system in which the punishment was to correspond to the severity of the act. The purpose was to prohibit excessive punishment and ensure that the judicial response of society compared to the nature of the crime. The problem is that people took the law to a personal level. People used the law to justify personal revenge and retaliation for wrongs. Breaking the law had consequences, but justice is to be enacted by society, not the individual.
Christ corrects this by examining our attitude and seeking to realign our perspective. Instead of enacting revenge towards those who wrong us, even those who deliberately harm us, we are to respond with love and forgiveness instead. My father always said, “he would rather be taken advantage of in a business deal than take advantage of someone else.” He would rather suffer a wrong than wrong someone else. This is the point that Christ is making. Instead of demanding our rights and making sure our rights are respected, we are to sacrifice those rights to demonstrate love. Instead of enacting revenge, we are to willingly suffer the wrong and forgive the person, even when the evil is deliberate and malicious. As a disciple of Christ, we are not to be concerned about personal justice (even as we uphold societal justice). We are not to take personal vengeance. Instead of demanding punishment, we should extend mercy and grace, for this is how God treated us. Instead of condemning us, he opened his forgiveness, grace, and compassion. Consequently, we must demonstrate the same attitude towards others who have mistreated us.
Do you have a co-worker who maliciously mistreats you? Is there a neighbor who is permanently “pushing your buttons?” Are there people who verbally attack you and spread malicious lies? Instead of reacting “tit-for-tat” revenge, demonstrate mercy and grace. Instead of seeking to uphold your rights, be willing to sacrifice them for the opportunity to show the grace and forgiveness of Christ. When we do so, we genuinely demonstrate Christ's character.