PASSAGE: "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" (Matthew 5:38-41).
QUESTION: I do not understand what is meant by not resisting an evil person, or if someone wants to take my tunic that I should also give them my cloak.
COMMENT: Again and again in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus takes his listeners beyond the well-established standards of the law into a new dimension of spiritual understanding. It’s not that the law of Hebrew Scripture is wrong; it’s that Jesus is calling us to a more advanced dimension of spiritual awareness.
Not all actions allowable under the law are right and appropriate for our new level of awareness. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" is sufficient for a primitive level of justice when we are struggling through the wilderness dimension of our human adventure. If we are to continue to grow into a full expression of the Power of God, however, we must embrace a new perspective. We must understand the spiritual power of nonresistance.
Of the several examples Jesus uses in the passage, one in particular would have shocked and confused his original listeners. The land of Israel at the time Jesus spoke was under the domination of Rome; evidence of this foreign occupation was everywhere, causing much anger and resentment among Jews who were nonetheless powerless to act against it. One of the most hated conditions of Roman occupation was that the Roman soldiers, as they marched across the land, could legally force any Jewish male to carry the soldier's pack for a distance of one mile. Jews understandably found the forced labor to be humiliating, but they were unable to refuse or resist. Their own law was powerless in the face of greater Roman might.
Jesus responds to the situation by emphasizing the power of nonresistance. Instead of begrudging the Roman soldier the mile of service that he demanded, go two miles instead. The first mile may be forced, but the second will be a freely given gift. Now the energy of the situation has completely shifted. The soldier, who had been dominant thanks to the power of Rome, is now the recipient of a gift, thanks to the power of love. And the downtrodden victim has become a gracious gift-giver, an expression of the love that is God.
Nonresistance remains a powerful political attitude in the world today, and it represents the clearest path to the kingdom in our individual lives as well. We know and affirm that the only energy at work in the world is the Power of God. When we surrender our own attempts to struggle and resist, and instead focus on allowing God to express through us, the stress and strain of life are instantly eased. Instead of wasting time and energy on resentment and anger, we gain the infinite strength and serenity of God.
Nothing is more damaging to our strength and well-being than allowing stress and anger to block us from feeling the power and joy of God's love. We never have to allow anyone or anything to create that block; by allowing God's eternal Presence to express, we will always prevail.