We see it over and over in history. Nations are oppressed. People are persecuted. Spirits are crushed. On each side, both the oppressors and the oppressed begin a downward spiral of hatred, bitterness, and contempt. Discord grows to violence; violence leads to abuse; abuse gives birth to attrocity. Each side attempts to put an end to the other's attacks by retaliating on a scale so great that the other cannot endure--or even survive--it. Sadly, the intended result is almost never achieved. There is no victory and there is no victor. There is only a continuation of hostility, violence, suffering, and death. It destroys people. It destroys communities. It destroys civilization. Worst of all, it destroys our ability to have a holy relationship with God.
People recognized this destructive cycle thousands of years ago. Because people are so inclined to take matters into their own hands and escalate hostility, a rule had to be adopted. One early example comes from the Code of Hammurabi, "If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out." Under some circumstances, the Mosaic law contained similar standards: "take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." (Exodus 21:23b-25) Don't get these wrong, though. These were not laws of revenge, but laws of limitation. Punishment would be meted out in proportion to the harm suffered and not more.
Christ walked the earth during the "pax romana,"--the Roman peace--but it was hardly a peaceful world. Two thousand years ago, Israel was an oppressed nation living under Rome. Its people were conquered and persecuted. Its spirit was crushed. But here and there was a spark of hope. Sometimes it was a false hope in a violent uprising. Numerous examples can be cited of rebellions that were quashed by the sheer power of Roman armies. Sometimes, though, the spark was found in the hearts and souls of people seeking God's favor. So it was with Simeon and Anna in the temple (Luke 2:25-40). They saw in Jesus Christ a redeemer for the nation of Israel. Indeed, Christ was the true spark of hope that had been promised by God. Christ is the "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6b).
Living under Roman oppression, it would have been quite natural for Jews to fall back on an application of Mosaic law that would authorize revenge. In the Sermon on the Mount, though, Christ set vengeance aside. Speaking to the multitudes He said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39). As Christians, our goal is not to get back at other people. Our goal is to get right with God. Our focus must be on what God sees. In short, we need not take an eye for an eye. We need to be watchful and have our eyes trained on God's eyes.
Matthew's record of the Sermon on the Mount begins with "The Beatitudes" (Matthew 5:3-11). In those words we find a reflection of the blessing that God wants for us. It is easy to claim blessing in prosperity, but Christ showed us that true blessing comes in ways that we don't always recognize. We can rejoice to be meek, merciful, and pure in heart. In humbling ourselves before God, we find God's favor and God's blessing. We can even be glad in the face of lies, insults, and persecution. In living lives of grace and faith, we give witness of God's favor and blessing to all who encounter us. What could be more fulfilling than finding and sharing God's favor and blessing?
Seek God's favor. Share God's favor. Be Christ like. Be Christian.
God bless you--