Matthew 5:38-48: Selflessness


  • Turning the other cheek
  • Going the second mile
  • Giving to those who ask
  • Loving the unlovely


This portion of the Sermon on the mount is probably the most famous, besides the Lord’s prayer. However, it is probably the most misunderstood, and misinterpreted. Many a Christian has bound their consciences with a hyperliteral interpretation of this portion ending up as pacifists, refusing to sign up for military service, as radical pacifists not allowing for any army, police force, or other means of resisting evil, as victims of professional beggars who know some Christians cant say no to anyone who asks. Theses verses have confused a lot of people, what does Jesus mean by turning the other cheek, do battered wives just have to take it? Must we impoverish ourselves if someone happens to ask for all we have? Literalistic interpretations although they sound like they are very hard and demanding actually fall short of the radical principle of selflessness that Jesus is calling for.

Jesus as in the rest of this sermon is correcting a pharisaic abuse of the law. The OT law of an eye for an eye, was a principle of justice which prevented personal retribution and over punishing. If a man stole a sheep, he was to return a sheep, not ten sheep in payment for his crimes. If a man assaulted someone, he was not to be killed but to compensate the victim. This was a principle to guide the judges of what was right in serving true justice. However, by Jesus time, this principle was now the law for settling personal vendettas. Whenever anyone was hurt, there was no forgiveness, there was no overlooking of it, there was the requirement of the pound of flesh, the exact amount that the letter of the law prescribed. A legalistic literal interpretation being used to serve the selfish agenda of revenge. This is the exact opposite purpose for which the law was given, Jesus is exposing this hijacking of the initial purpose of the law. He gives illustrations showing how we as Christians should not have hearts that sue for our personal rights but rather hearts that are governed by love and forgiveness.