When we consider the teaching of Jesus, it is worthwhile to keep in mind the people He was talking to and the circumstances in which they lived. Jesus had begun to attract large crowds of people from the regions where He had ministered (see Matt. 4:25, Matt. 5:1). Most were common people, living under the imperial rule of the Roman Empire, but some were the Jewish rulers and religious leaders. The existence of the common people was difficult. They had few choices for their own lives, burdened by heavy taxation and weighed down by religious tradition.
In teaching these people, Jesus was obviously concerned with offering them a way to live well, to live with dignity and courage, whatever their circumstances. One example of this is found in Matthew 5:38-48. In the English language, these instructions—“turn the other cheek”, “give them the shirt off your back”, and “go the extra mile”—are so well known as to be clichés. But this familiarity belies the radical actions and attitudes that Jesus is teaching here.
The scenarios Jesus described were common experiences for many of His listeners. They were often violently assaulted by their “superiors” or masters. They were often indebted and lost their property to the landlords and lenders. They were often pressed into labor by the occupying Roman soldiers. Jesus taught the people to respond with integrity, to treat the oppressors better than they deserved, and, by so doing, to resist the loss of their humanity. While these oppressors tried to exert their power, the people always had the freedom to choose how they would respond and, by resisting nonviolently and responding generously, they exposed the evil of the oppression and injustice that was being done.
Compare Matthew 5:38-48 with Romans 12:20-21. How are we to live out these radical principles in our lives?
|Jesus summarized all of “the law and the prophets”—all of the sacred writings we often describe as the Old Testament—in a simple principle that has come to be known as the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12, NIV). In what ways, right now, can you make an effort to do what He commands us here, regardless of the cost?|