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Go Further...

Conflict happens. It just does! Whenever we enter any relationship, we open up the opportunity for conflict to come into our lives…. and inevitably, it does. We all know this, and Jesus knows this as well. As he was starting his ministry, he set out a manifesto for what it means to follow him. In it, he shares how; ideally, we should respond to conflict.

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." Matthew 5:38-42

He begins by articulating our default response of how we respond to conflict - the system of retribution (You hit me, I'll hit you back). It is a system that is intrinsic to our fallen human nature. Jesus then says that there is a better way to live than this. "I tell you," he begins, outlining that he, the kingdom's king, has established a new pattern of living within his kingdom. In doing so, Jesus condemns the spirit of lovelessness, hatred, and yearning for revenge. He is reversing the dynamic. He shares three conflicts and offers three responses that a follower must give.

1) Turn the other cheek

To be hit on the right cheek was the ultimate insult – 1) because you were insulting the prominence of a person and 2)because the back of your hand offers a slap to the right cheek. He was insinuating that you thought a person to be worthless. In asking to turn the other cheek, Jesus was presenting a practical, rational, and holy way to deal with personal conflict and offense. He calls us to show those who bring conflict that we are filled with the spirit not of rancor but of love. Please don't become a doormat, but show them that a loving response is much better than a hateful response.

2) Give your Coat.

It was forbidden by the law to steal another's cloak (Ex 22:26-27), as the cloak was often a person's most valuable possession. Cloaks were expensive, and most people only owned one. It could be used as a blanket, a sack to carry things in, a pad to sit on, a pledge for debt, and clothing. But, when someone asks for a tunic, an undergarment... give them the most valuable thing to you.

Jesus is focusing his followers on holding things loosely - don't respond in a way that will foster ill will and escalate the conflict, react in a way that fosters peace and love and demonstrates that you are part of a different kingdom.

3) An extra 1000 paces.

A soldier could demand labor from ordinary citizens. It was like the action movies we see where the policeman will stop a driver in the road, flash his badge, and take his car in pursuit of a criminal. The Jews hated this law because it forced them to show their subjection to Rome. A soldier could force a commoner to walk with them "a thousand paces" (Approximately 4,854 feet, just under a modern US mile). You can imagine the victim would begrudgingly walk the mile, counting the paces in his head, as he traveled alongside the Roman centurion.

But Jesus is revealing that his followers belong to another kingdom. You have no choice regarding the first mile, but you do on the second. Jesus suggests that we take this suggestion of the extra mile and walk it with a smile.

I realize that these tricky words that Jesus offers provoke further questions. How does this teaching apply to situations of abuse? Does it mean Christians should become door mats that people can walk all over? Does it mean that we should let people take advantage of us? No.

Jesus emphasizes here that our response to a conflict should be to choose to love the one we are in conflict with. There is a solution that does not involve fighting back, that is not driven by retribution… but is driven by love.

Go beyond.

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