The other day I was watching the news and a young woman was being interviewed outside a courtroom. Years ago her father was senselessly murdered outside a mom and pop grocery store in Philly, and the killer had finally been sentenced to death row—an eye for an eye. Was there relief when the killer was read his sentence at the trial? Absolutely. Will that relief last? We all know the answer to that.
The punishment, while proportionate to the crime and necessary to satisfy the need for justice, unfortunately won’t give that woman her dad back. It won’t make any difference on her wedding day when he should be walking her down the aisle. It won’t make any difference when her firstborn child grows old enough to start asking questions about his or her grandfather. Justice, while necessary for civil order, can’t change what’s already been done. It can’t bring people back, and it definitely can’t get rid of the gorilla.
The only thing that can begin to heal the heart is what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:38-42:
“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. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
We read that, and at first glance we wonder how that’s going to make anything better. Not only aren’t we allowed to get back at people, but Jesus allows for no retaliation at all. In fact, Jesus’ command doesn’t take the Old Testament “eye for an eye” law just one step further, but two. Not only are we not allowed to retaliate, but choosing to do nothing after we’ve been hurt isn’t allowed either. According to Jesus, when we’re hurt we are to return kindness for pain, blessing for cursing, and toilet paper for neglect.
His reason is simple: showing kindness does something mystical to us. Seeing our kindness in action hopefully draws the person who hurt us closer to God, but I don’t think that’s the primary reason Jesus gave us this command. Instead, we’re to show kindness because doing so forces us into the flow of the Spirit. It forces us to do what only God—or God’s Spirit in us—is capable of doing.
First Peter 3:9 tells us that we receive a blessing when we display kindness. That blessing is the unexpected way we feel something again—a spiritual flicker, a faint sensation in our hearts that goes out to that person, an incomprehensible touch of empathy. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I know something happens. I’ve felt it, and if you can find the will to display kindness to the person who has hurt you, I promise you’ll feel it too.
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