A Fisherman’s Tale: CHAPTER 28

The days had flown since we returned from Nazareth. Some days I fished and other days I spent with Jesus and the others. 

Our days with Jesus soon fell into a comfortable routine.   He’d come by the house and we’d chat for a while and then we would wander through the village and find the rest of the group.  We would usually end up at the beach or in a field, and Jesus would teach us about the coming kingdom.  And to be truthful, it sounded a little bizarre at times.

For example. One day we had gathered in a field and people heard that Jesus was there, and pretty soon there were hundreds of people sitting in the grass.  They wanted to hear what life would be like after the Romans were gone, when the new kingdom came.

there, Jesus said, “You will be blessed by God when you recognize your need for him, and that happens more easily when you’re poor and have to depend on him.  And he will bless you by giving you the Kingdom of Heaven.

“And God will bless those who mourn by comforting them.  Don’t think too highly of yourself, because those who are humble in God’s sight will inherit the world.

“If you hunger and thirst for justice, you will find your blessing in God’s justice.  And those who show mercy to others will be shown mercy by my Father.

“If you want to see God, then keep your heart pure.  Be a peace seeker, and you will be called his children.

“But don’t think everyone will appreciate the new you.  And when you are persecuted for doing God’s will and his work, when people lie about you and slander you, God will bless you.  Just smile and remember the prophets were treated the same way.”

I could see Iscariot and the Zealot shaking their heads. This wasn’t what they had signed up for.  Justice would be when the Romans had been defeated and that certainly wouldn’t happen by seeking peace and showing mercy.

Jesus looked over and said, “You’re not sure about all of this, are you?  You’re thinking things will only change through force.”

“Force is the only thing the Romans seem to understand.”  The words were spoken by Simon, but Judas was nodding in agreement.  “Moses told us that justice was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Eventually the Romans will get back what they’ve given.”

“Really?  At the end of the day, do you want to live in a country made up of toothless, blind people?  That’s where those thoughts will lead you. It becomes a vicious circle, and the violence and hatred will never stop.

“Let me teach you a better way.  If a Roman soldier demands that you carry his equipment a mile, offer to carry it two miles.”

“That’s crazy!  He might force me to carry his stuff, but I won’t be going one step further than he forces me to go. Go an extra mile, what will that accomplish?”  Simon was almost foaming at the mouth he was so enraged.

But Jesus wasn’t finished, “and if that same soldier demands your cloak, offer him your shirt.  I know that you don’t have to and that he’s done nothing to deserve your kindness, but you need to treat others the way you would want them to treat you.  And more than that, shouldn’t you treat people the way you want my Father to treat you?”

As I watched the crowd, I could see some nodding while others were shaking their heads.  We had suffered at the hands of the Romans for so long most people couldn’t even get their heads around treating them with anything but scorn and contempt.

You can’t be serious,” someone shouted, “If you look at a Roman the wrong way, they’ll slap you.”  A mummering of agreement came from the crowd.

Jesus paused, as if weighing his words, “And if in a rage someone slaps you in the face, as humiliating as that might be, turn and offer them your other cheek.”

If you grew up playing baseball, you would understand the term triple play.  If you were a hockey kid, then hat trick would resonate with you. And if you were into basket ball, then you would be familiar with the term triple-double.

 I spent the first few years of my teen years around horses, and in particular race horses, so for me triactor is the word.  A triactor, or trifactor if you are from the states simply means that you bet on three particular horses to finish first second and third in a race.

This summer our preaching team will be focusing on the theme, Say What?  And we will be looking at common phrases that people use that either had their origins in the bible or came into common usage through the bible.

So far we’ve looked at “My brother’s Keeper”, “Apple of my Eye”, and “Cast the first stone.”

This week we are going to look at a triple play, or triactor of terms that Jesus used in the passage that was read for us earlier.

And they are “Turn the other cheek”, “give the shirt off your back” and “go the second mile” and each of those phrases were used by Jesus in what we now think of as the Sermon on the Mount.

What Jesus is talking about here ties in with what he said a little earlier in this passage, when he stated in Matthew 5:38 You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’

Where his listeners would have heard this would have been in Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21 and Exodus 21:24.  This is the oldest law in the world, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”.  That law was referred to in the ancient world as Lex Talionis, but it might have been more aptly referred to as the “law of tit for tat.”

An eye for an eye appears in the earliest code of laws and that was the code of Hammurabi.

Hammurabi was a Babylonian King who lived 1800 years before Christ.  The main principal in this law is clear; if a person inflicts an injury then he would receive the same treatment.

There are some who would call this harsh and blood thirsty, but in reality, it was the beginning of mercy, for two reasons:  The first is that it limited Judgement, if someone knocked out one of your teeth then you can’t knock out all of his. 

Secondly, it took judgement away from the individual and gave it to society.  Probably the greatest example of the why and how of this law was capital punishment.  If someone killed your child, they would be sentenced to death, that was their punishment. You couldn’t go out and kill their children and their spouse. 

This type of law was indicative of the society in which Christ lived.  It was very much a retaliatory society.  And it still is through much of the Middle East.

Iran does it, Syria does it, Lebanon does it, Iraq does it, Libya does it and if you want a real lesson in retaliatory justice then just watch Israel.  But then again, we support Israel so when they do it we don’t call it terrorism.

And remember that Christ said that he didn’t come to destroy the law.  Also keep in mind that we are dealing with an imperfect world.  We need to accept the reality of a system which punishes the lawless and rewards the lawful.  In a perfect world there would be no murder, so there wouldn’t need to be laws concerning murder.  In a perfect world there wouldn’t be adultery, so there wouldn’t have to be laws concerning adultery. 

In a perfect world there would be no divorce and nobody would ever break a promise or cheat on their spouse but we don’t live in a perfect world so God laid down regulations.

These are regulations for everyone, believer, non-believer, Christian pre-Christian, redeemed unredeemed.  We live in a less then perfect world, and although the law is not perfect it was concerned with checking the evil which threatens to destroy society.  And so, Christ accepted the necessity of an imperfect system to deal with an imperfect world.

But he felt that his followers needed to go beyond the law.

It wasn’t enough for Christ Followers to not commit murder they were to refrain from hating.  It wasn’t enough for Christ Followers to not cheat on their spouse, they couldn’t even think about it. 

For the follower of Jesus, they weren’t only to keep their word when they had taken an oath, they were to be known as truth tellers and people of integrity, oath or no oath.

The Mosaic Law punished evil doers; Jesus sought to eradicate evil.  Not by eradicating the evil doer, but by redeeming them, by changing them.

If you want to stomp out evil by stomping out the evil doer, then the Law of Moses is fine.  But if you want to destroy evil and salvage the sinner, then you need a completely different approach.

The law tells us to react in kind, and that suits our human personality.  We are quite willing to kill the killer, hate the hate, and be close minded to the close minded.  But Christ isn’t content with those who call themselves by his name reacting in the same way as the world.  Instead of reacting in kind, he commands us to react in contrast.

Indeed, he goes so far as to tell us in Matthew 5:39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.

Now I can almost read your minds, “He can’t be serious.  Jesus didn’t understand what the situation would be like today.  But you know Jesus wasn’t referring to international situations, and Jesus didn’t intend for this to be taken seriously.  Besides, Jesus only meant this as guidelines in relationships between Christians.” 

I had a Professor in Bible College who said “When you say ‘that isn’t really what the bible means’, then it must have cut too close”

Jesus was talking about today, July 26, 2020. He meant for his words to be taken literally and he was referring to all of our interpersonal relationships.  To top it all off, Jesus even lays down some examples from the everyday life of his listeners.

Matthew 5:39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.  

So Jesus starts by telling those who follow him, Don’t Repay Your Hurts

Often, we don’t read into this statement what Christ intended for us to see.  We see someone who struck another person and we don’t see more because we are relating this statement to 2020 Canadian culture and that isn’t the time or place that Jesus was when he made this statement.

Now, if we weren’t in a time of social distancing, I’d ask for a volunteer to come up here for me to slap, as an illustration.

But alas, it’s not to be.   So, instead, I’ll have to draw a word picture.

In the culture of Christ, the backhanded slap was the greatest insult going; as a matter of fact it was twice as insulting as being slapped with the palm of the hand.

What Christ was saying was not only “do not retaliate” but “don’t resent either”.  Now don’t make the major error of limiting Jesus’ words to a physical slap. 

In Canada in 2020 you will probably never be physically struck. It just doesn’t happen in polite company. 

But there will be verbal blows, insults, and rumours.  They will be real and imagined, petty and large, personal and general. 

Don’t forget the words of Christ in Matthew 5:11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.”  Christ didn’t say “If that happens” he said “when that happens” and there’s a big difference in those two little words.

Christ was a lot nicer person then me and he was called a glutton and a drunk, he was accused of being a friend of tax collectors and prostitutes, and he was beaten and spit on, hey I haven’t got a chance.

Early Christians were called cannibals, because of communion. 

They were accused of all kinds of gross immoralities, because they talked about love feasts.  Time and time again Christians suffer real and imagined insults.  They aren’t nominated for a position, they’re forgotten in a note of thanks, or they are snubbed by someone in the church or heaven forbid by the Pastor. 

There are those who think that every outrage should be resented and repaid.  And if that is where you are at, that won’t make you feel better, it will just make you feel bitter.

The true Christian has forgotten what it is like to be insulted because they have learned from the master to accept any insult without reprisal, and without resentment.

The second illustration comes in Matthew 5:40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 

Don’t Insist on Your Rights

All except the very poorest of the Jews would have a couple of shirts.  The coat on the other hand was their outer garment, but it was more than that.  It was like a long poncho and the people of the day wore it as a garment during the day and used it as a blanket at night. 

Most Jews had only one cloak, and the cloak was such an important part of the Jews wardrobe that it was protected by the law.  We are told in Exodus 22:26-27 If you take your neighbor’s cloak as security for a loan, you must return it before sunset. This coat may be the only blanket your neighbor has. How can a person sleep without it?

By Jewish tradition and Jewish law, you might ask a man for his shirt, but never his cloak.  And yet Christ is saying, even that which is protected by law, be ready to give up.  Even that which you don’t want to give, give.  Unfortunately, the church is full of people who militantly stand on their rights and their privileges, and they won’t be pried loose from them.

 People like that haven’t even started to see what Christianity is all about.

The Christian doesn’t think of his rights, he thinks of his duties, he doesn’t dwell on his privileges but remembers his responsibility.  He has forgotten that he has any rights at all. 

It’s kind of like the mask vs no-mask debate going on right now.

We aren’t being asked to wear masks to protect ourselves, we are being asked to wear masks to protect others.   And crossing your arms and saying, “You can’t make me.”  Makes you sound like a five-year-old.

The man who vehemently stands on his rights, who will fight to his death over his legal rights both inside and outside the church, has a lot to learn about giving up his cloak as well.

When I was learning how to drive my dad used to quote this poem to me:

“This is a story of John O’Day
Who died maintaining his right of way
He was right, dead right, as he sailed along
But he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.”

The third illustration comes from Matthew 5:41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. 

Don’t Resent What You Have to Do

Here is a picture taken from an occupied country and it’s tough for us to even imagine what Christ is talking about because we can’t imagine being forced to do anything.  Yet in Palestine 2000 years ago at any time a Jew might feel the flat of a Roman spear on his shoulder and the soldier on the other end could command them to do anything.  Even act as their porter and carry their baggage for a mile.

Do you remember Simon of Cyrene?  He was the man who was forced to carry the cross of Christ.  That was the only other time that this word which we translate as demands was used in the Bible.

Now you could obey the soldier one of two ways:  the first would be with grudging acceptance, like the little boy who was told to stand in the corner and he sat there with his arms crossed and said “I may be sitting on the outside but I standing on the inside”.  You ever do that?  I sure have.  Or you can cheerfully do your best. 

There are always two ways to do something 1) doing it with the bare minimum and that’s it, or 2) do what you’re asked to do and more graciously and cheerfully. 

But listen up, don’t wait until you are pressed into service by a Roman soldier because it probably won’t happen.  But you will have all kinds of opportunity at work, school and church.

The ineffective employee, the resentful volunteer, the ungracious helper have no idea what the Christian life is supposed to be about.

The Christian shouldn’t be concerned with only doing what he likes to do, instead he should only be concerned with being able to help, even when the demand is discourteous and unreasonable. 

And so, Jesus has given us three guiding principles for our Christian life: 1) Christians shouldn’t resent or seek retaliation 2) The Christian shouldn’t stand on his rights 3) The Christian shouldn’t be thinking of his right to do as he pleases instead he should be seeking to help, or go the second mile if you will.

Christ summed it all up in Matthew 5:44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  as a matter of fact if you were reading in the New King James Version of the Bible it goes into even more depth because it says “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. 

And maybe you’re wondering, “how do I love people like that?” 

Good question and the way to the answer is to first get a proper understanding of the word love.  There are all kinds of “love” out there and we relegate them to one word.  I love your shirt, I love my wife, I love my kids and grand-kids, I love my church, I love to cruise, I love burgers.  And yet I love each of those things in a different way.

The Greeks got around this problem by using different words for love.  1) Storge, was family love, it was what you would feel toward your children or your parents.  2) Eros, was the love you felt toward your husband or wife, it’s where we get the word erotic. 3) Phileo was a close friendship. 

There was a fourth word used by the Greeks for love, and that was Agape.  And this was an act of the will, not of the heart.  It’s not an if or because love, you know I’ll love you if you do this or I love you because of that.  This type of love is not based on the actions of others. 

It’s not the love of family, friend or lover, although it may grow into one of these.  And this is the type of love that Jesus commands us to show to others, even our greatest enemy.  Why Agape?  Because. That is the love of God for the world.  A love based on no external factors.  This commandment can only be comprehended and obeyed by Christians, because it is only when Christ lives in our lives that bitterness dies and love springs to life.

We also need to note that this commandment isn’t just passive, we are required to commit ourselves to action.  We are commanded to pray for our enemies.  We cannot go on hating a man in the presence of God.  In prayer, bitterness dies. 

It’s pretty well summed up in Matthew 5:48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. Sometimes people have some problems with that verse.  They think perfect like God, hmm kind of sounds like Genesis 3:5 when Satan told Adam and Eve that they could be like God.  And that isn’t what the word perfect implies here. 

Again, if we were to go back to the original language of the New Testament, we would discover the word used was Telios and it literally means complete.  This word is used to indicate that something is perfect for the job at hand.  A fully grown man is telios compared to a half-grown boy.  A graduating student is telios compared to a freshman.

God is perfect as God.  He is a perfect God, he has perfect knowledge, and perfect power, and that is a perfection which we can never attain because we’ll never be God.  And yet God has a perfection for each one of us and that is when we come to a place where we are complete for the task set before us.  When we live a life with perfect love, perfect motive and perfect obedience.  It comes when we live by the words of Jesus, not because we have to but because that is the innermost desire of our heart.

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