Retaliation and Liberality (Matthew 5:38-42; Luke 6:29, 30)

Submitted by admin on Wed, 2007-11-14 21:42.

Posted in | printer-friendly version »

When handling legal cases, elders in ancient Israel were to apply the principle, “eye for eye and tooth for tooth,” imposing just penalties that fit the crimes. (Exodus 21:22-25; Leviticus 24:19, 20; Deuteronomy 19:16-21) This legal precept, however, came to be wrongly used to justify retaliation. Addressing this aspect, Jesus said, “Do not resist one who is wicked; but if someone slaps [rhapízo] you on the right cheek, turn the other [cheek] also to him.” Striking someone on the right cheek with the back of the right hand would have been an insult designed to provoke the one slapped into a fight. For one to retaliate in kind would have meant that the person bent on doing evil had succeeded in attaining his objective. By turning the other cheek, the one slapped would usually prevent the situation from escalating into a vicious struggle. (Matthew 5:38, 39)

The chitón, commonly translated “tunic,” designated the garment worn under the himátion, often rendered “cloak.” If faced with being taken before a judge to forfeit a tunic, the one following Jesus’ advice would also give up his cloak, the more valuable garment. Thereby the individual would avoid getting embroiled in a legal confrontation (with a strong possibility of an unfavorable decision) and all the stress associated therewith. (Matthew 5:40)

During the time Jesus was on earth, the Romans exercised authority. At any time, Roman soldiers could impress a passerby into service. Instead of grumbling about being forced to carry a load for a mile and yielding to emotionally harmful resentment, the one heeding Jesus’ words would willingly discharge the service, carrying it out for an additional mile. This would aid the individual to maintain a disposition conducive to better mental, emotional, and physical well-being. (Matthew 5:41)

Jesus then said, “Give to the one asking, and do not turn away from the one wanting to borrow from you.” When in possession of the means to aid those in need, one acting in harmony with Jesus’ teaching would be willing to respond to requests for help. Liberality has a wholesome effect on the individual, promoting an inner peace and the joy that comes from being able to share in alleviating human suffering. (Matthew 5:42)


Verses 29 and 30 of Luke 6 read, “To the one striking you on the cheek, present the other [cheek] also; and to the one taking your cloak [himátion], do not withhold even your tunic [chitón]. Give to everyone asking you; and from the one who has taken your things, do not ask them back.” The situations on which Jesus commented differ from those he mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount (recorded in Matthew’s account).

The Greek word for “strike” (typto) signifies to administer a blow. Luke’s account uses the participial form of the word in the present tense to designate the one doing the striking, and the present tense could denote someone who repeatedly strikes. The person using his right hand to “slap” (rhapízo) someone on the right cheek would do so with the back of the open hand, but the individual intent on hurting someone would usually hit with his fist. Even when confronted by someone determined to inflict blows, the person who does not hit back (but shields himself) can often minimize personal injury.

Luke’s account presents a case where the individual is faced with having his cloak taken from him. The one following through on Jesus’ teaching would not try to prevent the seizure of his cloak and would not even withhold his tunic. Such willingness to part with possessions frequently contributes to avoiding confrontations with very serious outcomes.

In Luke’s account, the “asking” could be in the form of a demand and not necessarily an asking based on need. The point about asking back involves things that were taken. This suggests that in both cases the “asking” could involve “demanding.”