Keep in Mind the Main Thing

Epiphany 7 Sunday

Matthew 5:38-41

“You have heard that it is said: An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you that you should not resist the evil. But if anyone strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other as well. And if anyone wants to sue you to take your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”

This text has also generated a plethora of questions and errors for all teachers who did not know how to distinguish properly between the secular and spiritual estate, the realm of Christ and of the world. For where these two are commingled and are not clearly distinguished, no proper understanding can remain in Christendom, as I have often
said and proved…Christ here takes up the verse written in the law of Moses concerning those who have the command to serve in government and as authorities and to punish with the sword, Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21. Since they should and must take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, they, if they did not carry out this punishment, sin as gravely as those who take up the sword without orders and avenge themselves, Romans 12:19…The Jews at the time had perverted this and confused these two by applying to themselves individually the text that was given to the authorities, interpreting it to mean that each individual was to seek revenge and take an eye for an eye…Now Christ comes along and puts down such perverted, false opinion and meaning, leaves the authorities’ right and office alone, but teaches his Christians as individual people–outside of their office and authority–how they are to live for themselves: They should not desire revenge, being of the mind that, if anyone strikes them on one cheek, they are prepared to offer the other as well, where necessary. They should not only refrain from avenging themselves with their hands, but also in their hearts, with thoughts and all their faculties. In short, Christ wants to have such a heart that is not impatient, vengeful, or combative. This is a different righteousness than the one taught and observed by the Pharisees and scribes…Still, the question and disputation remains as to whether Christians must put up with everything from anybody, must never defend themselves or litigate in court, and must never request and demand what is theirs. For if these things were prohibited in general, a strange existence would come about where one would have to put up with everybody’s malice and wantonness, so that no one could continue to exist or keep anything in the presence of another. Finally, no government would remain on earth. To answer this question, you must always keep in mind the main thing: Christ here preaches only to his Christians and wants to teach them what kind of people they should be. He does so against the carnal opinions and ideas that still was present in the apostles at that time. They too thought that Christ would establish a new government and empire and install them as rulers so that would rule like lords and bring the enemies and the evil world under their power…The true Christians are also tempted to seek worldly power when they see how badly things go in the world, even in their own government, so that they would like to interfere and run things. But this is not to be. And let no one think that God will let us rule by worldly laws and punishments. The existence of the Christians is to be completely separated from this so that they do not care about these things or are engaged in them. They are to let those care about these matters who are commanded to distribute possessions, act, punish, protect, etc. They are to let these things go as those people do it…For we are placed in to a higher existence which is a divine, eternal kingdom where there is no need of such things that belong into the world, but where each is, in Christ, a lord over both
the devil and the world.

St. Louis ed., 7:463-467.

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