One day in sixth grade, as I returned to the locker room after P.E., I found the door stuck shut. I pushed until it released, sending me stumbling. As I gathered myself, I looked and found the “nerdy” kid as the guilty party. I shoved him against the wall and yelled, “If you ever do that again, I’ll…” You get the picture.

In Exodus 21:23-25, an eye for eye and tooth for tooth were given as upper limits of retribution in order to quell our hearts’ desire for vengeance. Even at the age of 12, I knew that desire.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had turned this law, originally designed for appropriate retribution in a judicial context, into a retributive system of tit-for-tat for personal insults and offenses.

Re-reading in Exodus 21:23, notice that Jesus left something off. What it actually reads is, “Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” As Jesus teaches, He is correcting our wrong view of justice and asking instead that when we are insulted or offended, what do we seek? Is it tit-for-tat retribution or a restored relationship?

In order to restore a relationship, we might need to endure an insult, give up our rights or even our life. Isn’t this what Jesus did for us? Rather than give us retribution, He exchanged His life for ours — life for life — that we might be reconciled to God.

Father in Heaven, I am incapable, on my own, of carrying out justice with the purpose of restoring relationships. By the power of your Spirit living in me, would you teach and empower me to approach justice the way you did — life for a life? Amen.

Go Deeper — Are there any relationships in your life in which you are demanding retribution? What would it look like to lay down your life for restoration?

Read Further — Read Exodus 23 afresh. Read these chapters through the lens of God’s desire for relational harmony amongst His people.

Tags: Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5
Photo Credit: Tyler Lastovich