Matthew 5: 38-42 (NRSV)
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Matthew 5: 38-42 (The Voice)
38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard of justice and punishment: take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.[a] 39 But I say this, don’t fight against the one who is working evil against you. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, you are to turn and offer him your left cheek. 40 If someone connives to get your shirt, give him your jacket as well. 41 If someone forces you to walk with him for a mile, walk with him for two instead. 42 If someone asks you for something, give it to him. If someone wants to borrow something from you, do not turn away.
This familiar concept from Scripture has to do with the historic standard for justice and punishment. How many times have you heard someone quote this passage (an eye for an eye) as a way of saying, ‘you will get what you deserve’? In his own classic way, Jesus loves to turn it all around so the world can be reshaped into an image of mercy and compassion. “But I say to you” is the mark of transition that takes the conversation from ‘you will get what you deserve’ to ‘you are about to experience grace and mercy’ at the hand of God. It is really a beautiful shift that happens first in the mind and then in the heart.
I don’t want to draw a straight line from this teaching of Jesus to our modern day practice of gift giving…but what would happen if you shifted your gift giving from ‘I will give you what you deserve’ to I will bless you with grace and mercy. In fact, what if our gift giving was not about equal balance but was about abundance and generosity?
If you can shift from ‘you gave me something worth $10 so I will give you an equal gift in balance’ (do you know what I mean?), then you might be able to shift to a pattern of abundance and generosity that really makes a difference in the world. Rather than ‘equal for equal’ what if your gift giving was about mercy and compassion. What if, your gifts were about Feed My Starving Children or the Parker Task Force or your favorite ministry? Wouldn’t that be a way to go the extra mile of mercy?