Retaliate with Kindness

Bible Reading:
Laws of Special Crimes Exodus 21:12-27; 22:1-4; Deuteronomy 5:17,19; 19:1-14; 22:25-29; 24:7; 25:11-12; Numbers 35:9-34

"...life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise" (Ex. 21:23-25. See also Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21.)

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for 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.... I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:38-44).

The "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" rule was written as a guide for judges, to make sure the punishment properly fit the crime. It also served to discourage false testimony, by applying the same punishment to false accusers that they intended for the accused. When we are required to mete out punishment to our children, we would be wise to follow the same standard, making sure that our punishment is appropriate and fair.

This standard for judges has come to be commonly misinterpreted as an endorsement of personal revenge. Jesus encourages us not to usurp the role of judge, but to "go the extra mile" in showing God's love to those who wrong us. He is not saying that we should become a "doormat" and just passively accept their abuse. Rather, we are to make an active effort to show them kindness and to pray for them. Instead of retaliating with the same kind of wrongful treatment, Jesus says to retaliate with kindness and prayer! In fact, that is better than just getting even: "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you" (Pr. 25:21-22; Rom. 12:20).

If we return anger for anger, betrayal for betrayal, insult for insult, hatred for hatred..., then we are allowing evil to overcome us. If, however, we answer anger with gentleness, betrayal with devotion, insult with compliment, hatred with love..., then, through God's power, we can overcome evil with good. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21; c.f. 1 Peter 3:9). In demonstrating God's grace, we can have a far greater impact for change.

Lord, it's not easy to love my enemies. It seems hardest when I find myself at odds with members of my own family. My immediate response, when someone hurts me, is to lash back. But if I win at revenge, then I lose in relationships. When I feel offended, help me develop and exercise the habit of retaliating with kindness and prayer. I need your strength to show love, especially in times when all I feel is anger and resentment. In those times, instead of falling into a downward spiral of hurting each other, help me to turn the tide of injury and begin an upward push of tenderness and forgiveness. Open my eyes to see others the way you see them. Soften my heart with an understanding of their pain. Unlock my spirit to love them like you do. Help me to let go of my control and trust them to you. Only you can work deeply and gently in their hearts to make them who you want them to be. Shape them according to your will, not my own. Keep me from hindering your work in their lives and in mine. Use your love as a powerful tool to transform my "enemies," just as you're using it to transform me.