“All People Are Our Neighbors”

Matthew 5:38-47

Today we complete the section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus focuses on the misinterpretations the scribes and Pharisees have perpetuated over time. Jesus dealt with six laws they had heard said, and Jesus was explaining what they really meant. So far He has covered anger, adultery, divorce and saying the truth about yourself rather than twisting the truth to make you look better. Today, Jesus focuses on the law of retribution and not being stingy with your love. 

Verse 38 quotes the law, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” I suspect everyone has heard of this Old Testament Law. Sounds fair doesn’t it? That’s exactly what it was meant to be, fair. It comes straight from Exodus 21:24. 

If you were to go to Exodus and read the context you would discover it was established as a principle in order for the civil government to limit retribution. The law was established so to keep retribution even, rather than taking more than what was taken from you. 

Like most things, over time, religious teachers slid this command out of its proper place of the civil government, to the realm of personal relationships. Jesus fulfills this principle by going beyond limiting revenge and extending into the principle of accepting certain evils against one’s self. He brings up the example of someone slapping you on the right cheek. 

Human instinct is to give it back to them, 

plus some, 

there’s the limiting principle. 

Jesus says, in God’s kingdom, 

rather than give them “plus some” of retaliation, 

we plus some of the same that was given to us, 

by turning the other cheek. 

It’s important to read this in context. 

Jesus wasn’t saying to allow someone to knock you on the side of the head with a baseball bat, and then let them hit you with the bat on the other side of your head. In ancient Judaism, the striking  of someone with the back of the hand was considered a severe insult. The Jewish leaders established a very heavy fine for the retribution of such actions. 

So much for equal retaliation, the reason for the eye for the eye law. 

Jesus states that in God’s Kingdom, one doesn’t focus on equality, but they focus on love. Love in this case would be to accept the insult and allow them to insult you once more. 

Because in God’s kingdom, their insult doesn’t make a difference, you are covered by God and trust God to retaliate and defend us. 

Don’t think for one minute Jesus was telling people to be a doormat and resist evil. Quite the contrary. Jesus was the first person to call evil what it was and address it. Take the time he was in the temple and started turning over the tables of the money changers. But when it came to resenting an insult and seeking retaliation for personal attacks, Jesus lived out the example of turning the other cheek. He had been accused of being a glutton, a drunk, an illegitimate child, a blasphemer and a madman, and His response was always love, demonstrating this very principle. 

Jesus continues with upping the ante by stating if someone sues you and wants your shirt, give them your coat as well. Again, returning back to context, it was against the law of Moses to demand the payment of someone’s outer cloak, Exodus 22:26; Deuteronomy 24:13. So, then by offering your cloak, you have exceeded the demand and put a close to the matter. 

Then comes having to walk two miles when asked to walk one. In God’s kingdom, we are told to rise above evil impositions by making a deliberate choice to give more than required. During the time of Jesus, Judea was under Roman military occupation which meant any Roman soldier might command a Jew to carry his soldier’s pack for one mile – but for only one mile. Jesus was telling His disciples, demonstrate love, go the one mile required by law, then go another, out of a free choice of love. 

In this manner, the act of manipulation is transformed into a free act of love. 

I suspect it wouldn’t surprise you that Jewish people resented such impositions and by Jesus using this example He dissociated himself from the militant nationalists. Jesus taught His disciples rather than resisting or resenting, they should volunteer for a further mile, they should give more. 

Think about it for a minute. The interpretation from the Jewish leaders was, 

Insist on your own right,

Love your neighbor,

Hate your enemy,

And so secure your safety.

Jesus’ new law said, 

Suffer wrong and love everyone.  

Lastly, Jesus said, give to those who ask of you. By doing so, one doesn’t give into someone else’s manipulation, but rather changes the request into the giving of a free act of love. Paul repeated this idea in Romans 12:21

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The idea of love continues with Jesus’ last interpretation of the law of love towards your neighbor, verses 43-44, 

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 

Again, overtime men had twisted what God had said. The actually Mosaic law commanded,  Leviticus 19:18,

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. 

It was the teachers in the days of Jesus who added the opposite obligation, to hate your enemies.

Talk about intolerance! The Jewish leaders looked upon anyone that was uncircumcised as enemies, not neighbors and they weren’t about to love them.  

Here goes the upside-down kingdom again. Jesus told them to love their enemies. In essence, Jesus was reminding them that God thinks ALL people are our neighbors, even our enemies. This means, in order to fulfill the law, we are called to love, bless, do good and pray for all our neighbors, enemies and friends. 


That we may be sons of our Father in heaven. Meaning, when we love both friends and enemies, we are imitating God, who shows His love by sending rain on the just and the unjust. 

Then Jesus states it like it really is. If we love only those who love us, then we are no different from our enemies. They do the same thing. 

Jesus was teaching what it was like to live in God’s kingdom. Think about it. It should be different from what’s in the world, right? Christians should be expected to act differently from the world and there are some legitimate reasons why this is true: 

  • Christians have something that the world doesn’t have; they are renewed, repentant and redeemed by Jesus Christ.
  • This means they have a power that the world does not have; they can do all things through Christ who gives them strength. Philippians 4:13
  • They have the Spirit of God living in them
  • Their future is bright and better than those of the world. 

Jesus concludes His true interpretation of the law with a sticky point, verse 48,

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

As if what Jesus has taught so far hasn’t been difficult enough, now we have to be perfect like God is perfect?

  • We would never hate, slander or speak evil of another person?
  • We would never lust in our hearts or minds, and not covet anything?
  • We would never make a false oath, and always be completely truthful?
  • We would let God defend our personal rights, and not take it upon ourselves to defend those rights?
  • We would always love our neighbors, and even our enemies? 

Good grief! I don’t know about you, but I’m out. 

The truth be told, only one human has lived like this: Jesus Christ. 

It is His example we are called to follow, not commanded. Jesus restated these laws, because humans had twisted them to mean what they wanted them to mean so they could look good and get the upper hand. Jesus came to reveal that if that is the way you want to live, then you need to keep the whole law, both the internal and the external. 

What Jesus came to preach was we needed a righteousness that was apart from the law, Paul put it this way in Romans 3: 21-22,

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,

We are no longer justified by whether we are perfectly fulfilling the laws. That has been proven to be impossible. What is possible, is faith in Jesus, who was able to do so perfectly and as the perfect lamb, He was slaughtered for our sake. 

Phew! I’m glad that’s cleared up. 

But even though I have been redeemed, Jesus still claimed that in God’s kingdom there were two laws that summed up all other laws, found in chapter 22 of Matthew,

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

And all people are our neighbors. That includes people you like and people you don’t like. 

Let’s pray.