Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
~ Matthew 5:38-42 The Message
In the first few chapters of Matthew a series of teachings by Jesus are laid out for us to consider. In each of them we find a surprise. He is asking us, it seems, to take a second look at what we think it means to be holy. He is challenging folks to give serious consideration to choosing a different version of life for themselves. In this passage, he is offering them a new way to reclaim their previously held beliefs about power. He is suggesting them to take revenge off the table. This is a conscious choice.
People are uncomfortable with this message and I understand why. It could easily be misconstrued to suggest that people in positions of power can abuse us without any repercussions. I have had occasion of late to deal with this in my own life. No one has been thwacking me a glove and asking to duel but I have had opportunity to learn the pain and suffering of bullying behavior. As a person who does not want to have revenge as part of my life I have had to navigate the rough waters of when to stay silent and when to speak up and out; when to hold them and when to fold them; what to do and what to reject doing as my feelings overwhelmed my core beliefs. It’s been a challenging situation. I have not always handled it well. The only way I have handled it at all was to ask for help from others to guide me AND to spend a significant amount of time examining and re-examining my core values, choosing, from my many (sometimes competing) values, which ones were applicable in this particular situation. It required silence, stillness and solitude as well as a tribe to find my way.
The one truth that I return to over and over is God’s word (although even that can be confusing) that teaches us to trust that justice is God’s department not mine. So often I want to protest what feels like the injustices that seem to run unchecked in the world today. But that is not my job. My job is to give and receive love. Sometimes that means defending the weak and the vulnerable, other times it means returning to silence, stillness and solitude.
Broken relationships are terribly grievous things but they are also inevitable. The primary comfort I have found as I navigate the ending of a relationship with someone I love is this: maybe it is no longer appropriate for me to be the one that gives and receives love in this relationship - but I can pray that others will take up the mantle and continue their giving and receiving to that person!