I can’t help but think of my little boys when I read this passage. Samuel and Andrew are ages 4 and 3, respectively. When they’re playing together it is inevitable that one of them is wronged. Samuel snatches the toy that Andrew was playing with. Andrew’s first response is to strike out and hit Samuel. Samuel then hits Andrew back. You get the picture – this kind of scene is played out for parents and people who are around young children all the time. All of that is usually…well, always…followed by crying and stories of injustice, usually accompanied by pleas for punishment to the other.
Jesus is teaching us here to resist our most natural urge of striking back. Don’t be confused by the language in verse 39 though – “Do not resist the one who is evil.” Ephesians 4:27, 6:11-13, 1 Peter 5:8-9, James 4:7, all talk about resisting the devil with the “whole armor of God.” When Jesus says, “Do not resist the one who is evil,” He is talking about revenge. He isn’t telling us to be weak and passive; He’s telling us not to be vindictive. Jesus wants us to ask the question, “If someone does something evil to me, how may I respond with only good in return?”
This is a really difficult concept to apply in every day life. My mind automatically jumps to the “big” wrongs – but what about the rest? What if, instead of getting frustrated when someone cuts in front of me in line, I offer to help them unload their groceries onto the belt for them? It sounds nice in theory – but in the heat of the moment it’s not easy to humble myself to offer help to someone that acted rudely or inconsiderately to me.
Jesus wants us to be selfless. He goes on to tell us that if someone sues us for our shirt, don’t only give that away, but our cloak as well. If someone begs, give to them. If someone asks to borrow – give to them as well. The theme here is to “disconnect” from material goods and possessions. I don’t think Jesus wants us to be penniless, but I do think that He recognizes that the things we acquire and that have importance to us can separate us from Him.
The Apostle Paul summarizes what Jesus’ teaches us here in Romans 12:17-21,
“never pay back evil for evil to anyone. respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
In Psalm 65 David writes, “When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions…We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.” The awesome gift of forgiveness – granted while we were still sinners – needs to be contemplated daily. We need to remember that all we are, all we have, comes from God. Our financial wealth, our knowledge and abilities – they are gifts given to us to use for His glory.
Try this week to return a negative action with a loving response. Look for an opportunity to use what God has given you to help someone in need. Show compassion and grace when you feel a response of anger or frustration.
Lord, please fill my heart with the desire to serve you. Thank you for your constant forgiveness. Help me to reflect your light to those around me and give me the courage to return evil with good. Give me a generous spirit and cause me to look for ways to show generosity.