The Heavenly Father Causes The Sun To Rise On Both The Wicked And The Good

November 16, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Matthew 5:38-48

Do Not Lift [Your] Hand Against The Evil Doer

1. Familiar sounding words are found in the gospel reading for today. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." It is often used as a slogan to mean "If you do it to me, I'll do it back to you." But, that's not what it meant originally. This is called the law of retaliation, it makes provisions, so to speak, for an amount of punishment and for retribution. For example, in Leviticus chapter twenty-four, the following words appear. "The person who has inflicted an injury upon another must receive the same injury as that [inflicted]. With a broken bone for a broken bone, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, he must receive the same injury that he gave to the other person," (Leviticus 24:19-20). When you receive an injury from someone, you will want to pay them back many times over, so it probably meant to put a stop to such a limitless kind of retribution. Just because your tooth was broken you should not take away someone's life.

2. That's how it is written in the Old Testament, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." Jesus said, "But, I truly say to you," and with that he continued as follows. "Do not lift [your] hand against the evil doer," he said. What the Lord is stating here is about the case when someone injures you, and worse still, about the case when it was obviously "an evil, a crime" [against you]. By the way, we can also translate "Do not lift [your] hand against the evil doer" as "Do not lift [your] hand against the evil." But from the context it is probably more correct to keep this as "the evil doer." It is a speech about what we can do in regard to these persons [who come against us as opponents].

3. First, he speaks about the person who hits [you] on the right cheek. Since it is totally about "the evil doer," it is not a case where the other person hits [your] cheek with justifiable cause. Nor does it mean I'm getting assaulted because I've been evil. It is a time when the other guy has assaulted [you] entirely unfairly. To go further with it, when a right-handed person strikes, he doesn't usually hit the right cheek. This is a case of someone hitting with a back hand. This used to be an expression of contempt in the Jewish world. It is a case where the other guy knows that I am weak and thrashes out with contempt. [We know that] it is harder to endure contempt than to endure physical pain. Yet, Jesus says to dare to receive that insult and turn the other cheek.

4. Next then, how about, "When someone sues you and wants to take your first layer of clothing, let him take the top layer as well," (verse forty)? This is the setting of a court. Since this is also about the person in your sphere being "an evil doer," that this is an unfair lawsuit is clearly taken as a presupposition. For example, it is a case where something is unjustly robbed through an authority, through a court that is twisted. Jesus is saying that when in this way something is about to be unjustly robbed [from you] through persons in power, do not fight and utilize any kind of power on your part, but instead go above and beyond, and give it to them.

5. The third example offered is unjust coercion. Perhaps this text is giving thought to the coercion that came from the Roman army of occupation. The Romans reserved themselves the right to coerce the Jews as road guides and load bearers. (Just as when, against his will, Simon the Cyrene was loaded down with the cross to bear upon his shoulders.) Coercion from the Gentiles must have been extremely humiliating for the Jews. But even on this the Lord says not to pay them back in any form for their disgracing you, but instead "You ought to go with them the second mile, shouldn't you?"

6. Fourth then, because it speaks of "those who ask" and "those who want to borrow" and "the evil doer," it is not a talk about just being disturbed by a person who comes to borrow. It is more than likely a guy trying to get something by deception and with ill intentions, even though he or she will borrow something from you, this person has no intentions to bring it back, but will try to shirk anything due back to you [and is willing to step on you at that]. The Lord is saying don't turn your back against even someone like that.

A Teaching For Disciples

7. Well, when we hear these words of Jesus, the argument immediately begins, "Is this kind of teaching applicable to the real world? Is order in society established out of this type of teaching?" And so we would like to take refuge in such arguments. But we must not be mistaken. Jesus did not put forth a general teaching for the world. Jesus was addressing his disciples. Jesus was addressing the disciples following him, who were seeking to live looking to God as the heavenly father. What's more, it is not a general speech, but he is speaking to "you," that is "If someone hits you in the right cheek," or "When someone sues you and wants to take your first layer of clothing." It is about what you, the ones listening to this, will do.

8. In fact, after this period of time, the followers, the churches, each individual Christian would come to be asked, "What should you do?," because there would be persecutions from the Jews upon them, and there were also even more persecutions that were to come from the Roman state authorities. At that time, as might be expected, it would not have been strange even if thoughts had arisen in [a Christian's] mind like, "We should pay them back," "We should fight," "We should take up weapons." However, they had often recalled these words from the Lord. It was probably a matter that the risen Christ had re-spoken to them repeatedly. "Do not lift [your] hand against the evil doer."

9. As I mentioned before, this is not [just] about, "Do not lift [your] hand against the evil doer." No indeed, in a true sense, we do not lift hands against the evil doer in order to stand up to evil and to defeat evil. We relinquish the exercising of power and paying back. That's right; what is being sought from us here is winning in a true sense. Isn't that indeed right? If we can pay back, will we truly have overcome the evil? We will not have. Retribution will lead to producing a chain of paybacks. Even if the chain left over is not in a form visible to the eye, hatred will still surely be left over. With that then, will we have truly overcome evil? Will we have overcome the wicked one, the devil? We will not have.

10. Paul will later say, "We are not to succumb to evil but rather, overcome evil with good," (Romans 12:21). The true victory over evil is the hour when you have won over the bad person himself or herself [by doing good]. To begin with, that was God's way of doing battle. It was the way of doing battle in which God wins over the human being. God does not want to get the victory by judging and destroying a person. That's not the victory that God has wanted, instead the victory that God wants is that a person repents and comes to love God. For that reason, Christ experienced suffering. Christ was crucified by the hands of human beings. God deemed it to be good. One can beat up one's opponent to a pulp with power if you have it. But you cannot with the exercise of power win over the heart of your opponent by defeating the evil of your opponent.

11. In connection to these words [from Jesus] I am reminded of the civil rights movement in America led by pastor Martin Luther King. In his speech at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, held in 1967, pastor King stated the following.* "For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can't murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can't establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can't murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that." There are way too many times that we have tried to extinguish darkness with darkness, that we have tried to extinguish evil by means of the same evil.

Love [Your] Enemies And Pray For Those Who Persecute [You]

12. Furthermore, the Lord did not stop at "Do not pay back [with evil]," but went on to require them to love. "Love [your] enemies and pray for those who persecute [you]," (verse forty-four). Even though we hear this statement, still the natural reaction that takes place within us is to say "That's impossible," "That may be ideal, but it's unrealistic." Furthermore, there may be some who say, "It is hypocritical." I say that because many think that "Love is something spontaneous and voluntary." Those who think that love is something that overflows naturally will probably feel that to love after being commanded "Love!" by somebody else is a hypocritical love, something not genuine.

13. But, Jesus does not say, "Fall in love with your enemies!" The love of which the Bible speaks is not some kind of emotion that occurs naturally. Just like in the case from before, what is at issue here as well is this matter of "What will we do?" That is, it is our decision. It is the action that is based on our decision. Does Jesus specifically say, "Do it this way?" He says, "Pray!" He says, "Love [your] enemies and pray for those who persecute [you]!"

14. The basis for the Lord to make that command is the relationship between God and us. As I touched upon earlier, these words are not spoken to people in the world in general. They are spoken to disciples. They are spoken to those who follow Jesus and call God the heavenly father. Therefore, Jesus goes on to add, "It is so that you become children of your heavenly father. For, the father causes the sun to rise on both the bad and the good, he causes the rain to fail on both the righteous and the unrighteous," (verse forty-five).

15. "It is so that you become children of your heavenly father." That's what Jesus said. Just like he says "your heavenly father," God has first of all become "our heavenly father." We are able to call God "our heavenly father." He also said, "Pray!" that way. Pray, "Oh our father who is in heaven!" [Yet], the act of calling out to God as the father of heaven is not something due us at all. The reason God has become our heavenly father is not because we deserve it. It's totally not possible that we deserve to be called children of God. If we [so undeserving] suppose that we can call God the heavenly father, it is because the father "causes the sun to rise on both the bad and the good, he causes the rain to fail on both the righteous and the unrighteous."

16. God, for the exact reason that he is that kind of God, not only causes the rain to fall on us who are unrighteous, but also handed down even his son, crucified even his son, and made atonement for sin. Thus, he forgave our sins and he became our heavenly father. So, since he became our heavenly father, we too became children of the father. That is, just as the heavenly father has done, so we are to do the same as the father. A specific expression of that would be, for example, to "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute [you]."

17. Then finally, the Lord said, "Therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect, you, become perfect too!" The perfection of God is not some abstract discussion. The perfection of God, which has been made clear to us through Christ, is definable as the perfection of the love of God. And so we call father that One of perfect love. That father of love does not will that we live stuck with a heart full of desires for revenge. He does not will that we live stuck full of hatred. He does not will that we live defeated by evil. Instead, he wills that his children live overcoming evil with good. We must turn our eyes on God the Father's plan of love. God wishes that with perfect love we are perfectly saved and become perfect. Thus, we too are living and moving towards perfection by believing the perfect love of the father.

End Notes:

The original speech was given in English and so the actual words from Dr. King's speech are quoted above. A more literal translation of the Japanese is given below.

"You certainly may be able to kill a killer with violence. But we cannot kill the act itself of killing. We may be able to kill a liar with violence. But you cannot establish the truth. In addition, you may be able to kill the person who hates by means of violence. But you cannot kill the very hatred itself by means of violence. Darkness cannot extinguish darkness. It is only light that can do that."