The earliest known written record of laws was the Code of Hammurabi in 1754 BC. Amongst their many laws is a very familiar one: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. This generally means that whatever actions are taken against you then legally you can act out the same actions in retaliation. This law is also present in the Old Testament and in Roman law and was in use in the time of Jesus. And I would venture to say that there are many cultures today and people within our own population that live by the same law.
This law speaks to the very essence of human emotion when we are hurt or angry. But does retaliation really make the situation right? Does retaliation bring back lost goods, lost friendships, or lost family members? Does it teach anyone lessons on how to better live life? And where does the retaliation end? At some point in all of our lives we have felt that strong urge for retaliation, for wanting to hurt someone who has caused us pain, and sometimes we act on those very real emotions but it does not bring an end to our pain, it does not bring back what was lost, and it only perpetuates feuds and hatred.
As a child, my brothers had a rule when I was growing up. You hit me; I’ll hit you ten times harder. Needless to say it did not solve a single fight. It just ended in bruises and anger that went from hitting to full out brawling and then we would get kicked outside for wrestling. I think our world and often our own society still functions under that same rule. You hit me I’ll hit you ten times harder. With the prevalence of this code of conduct, we need to spend time considering if it is actually working. Is our world becoming a more peaceful place to live? Is our internal country’s politics a peaceful thing to partake? Are relationships improving? I don’t know about you but when I look at the state of things in this world, in this country, and even within individual relationships it just gives me heartburn and I have to take more Tums. Things are a downright mess.
I ask myself: where is the grace in all of this? Where is grace lived out in our individual relationships, in our community relationships, in our nation, and in our world? Dwight L. Moody said, “Grace means undeserved kindness. It is the gift of God to man that moment he sees he is unworthy of God’s favor”. As long as we handle our pain by infliction pain on others or even wishing hardship on others then we cannot truly experience and live into God’s grace. As followers of Christ, we are asked to deal with the harshness and conflict in the world differently than what has been done since the beginning of time. Christ expects more out of us. He taught us differently both by story and by example.
When Jesus shared the turn the other cheek story it was to address the innate desire for retribution. The Hammurabic Code had been present for so long and so well known that it had entered as law into almost every Middle Eastern society at the time. But as Jesus rightly observed two wrongs does not make a right. We teach our children this but as a whole humanity does not live by this teaching. This does not just apply to physical loss either. This applies to how we deal with each other verbally, physically, and how we deal with people in our thoughts as well. Jesus was teaching humanity how to live gracefully instead of just fumbling through this life inflicting one another with abuses.
Without grace, then arguments rage on, where harsher and harsher words are said until innocent people become hurt, hardened, and embroiled in battles they have no need to be involved in. Without grace, people have committed some heinous actions that there was no need to commit. In Lent, we talk about living into forgiveness, about identifying the conflict in our lives, and setting right relationships.
Christ has given us the blue print for where to start and how to go about doing that. Remember the words of Christ from the Gospel reading from this morning when he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. Instead of wishing hardship, spewing venous words, or thinking ill of someone, we are called to pray for them and to act in love towards even those who are hateful towards us. We are called to use our care and compassion, our ability to think beyond ourselves to fight off the evil that others live into in their lives because we know the true cost of hate.
Remember that Christ faced some of the most heinous results of hate and misunderstanding in his life. He faced jealousy and the absolute worst in humanity. People acting out of fear, hatred, and the desire for retaliation towards what they viewed as a dangerous theology that Christ shared. Yet when he was on the cross, Christ did not ask God to punish these individuals; he did not curse the people who brought about his suffering and death, he did not tell his disciples to avenge his death. No. He asked God to “forgive them, for they know not what they do”. Let us take our lead from Christ. Let us offer forgiveness to those who have caused conflict, let us place love of humanity first when dealing with others, and let us pray for those who are in such a state of turbulence that they feel the need to cause harm to all in their path. The best way to have the greatest affect in this world is through love and kindness. Remember that grace means undeserved kindness. We have each received undeserved kindness through Christ. So let us pay it forward in all that we do and in all of our relationships moving forward towards Easter. Let us offer kindness no matter how undeserved it is and seek the strength and courage from God to live contrary to a world of violence and hate. The world has been left beaten up and bruised enough. It is time to try something new.
 Dwight L. Moody, American Evangelist, 19th century.
 Matthew 5: 43-44, RSV.
 Luke 23: 34, RSV.
(based on Matthew 5: 38-48)