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 anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“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, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
In his book, “No Future Without Forgiveness,” Bishop Desmond Tutu writes about the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. As he establishes the foundation of the book and sets out to walk the reader through the work of the Commission, Bishop Tutu is careful to make the distinction between retributive justice, and restorative justice. Retributive justice, he says, is justice “whose chief goal is to be punitive, so that the wronged party is really the state, something impersonal, which has little consideration for the real victims and almost none for the perpetrator.” He goes on to say,
We contend that there is another kind of justice, restorative justice…Here the central concern is not retribution or punishment…the central concern is the healing of breaches, the redressing of imbalances, the restoration of broken relationships, a seeking to rehabilitate both the victim and perpetrator…This is a far more personal approach, regarding the offense as something that has happened to persons and whose consequence is a rupture in relationships. Thus we would claim that justice, restorative justice, is being served when efforts are being made to work for healing, for forgiving, and for reconciliation.
Let’s not get suckered by the glitz of retributive justice, when we are people of the God of restoration. Let’s not settle for an eye-for-an-eye form of justice when Christ has clearly taught us something more. Here’s how he put it:
In the purview of today’s passage, retributive justice sounds like an easy out. But we are not called to the easy way out, are we? Perhaps, in the scheme of things, retributive justice has its place. But, there is a sense in which retributive justice falls short of the vision God has for us, and the reason Christ died for us.
Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, not after we got our act together. He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. He is not just our rescue he is also our refuge. Long before the dust settled, in the absence of reparations, and in the wake of our long disobedience and casting off of our affections toward him, God sent his son, so that we might be justified. When retributive justice was our reasonable inheritance, we were given grace, instead. What we deserve is a justice that is punitive and impersonal, but what we receive in its place, is mercy.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
What if Jesus had waited for us to deserve mercy? What are your thoughts about restorative justice? What does it mean to be justified before God?
Jesus, thank you for making mercy possible for us. Thank you for being our rescue and our refuge. Help me to see justice the way you see justice, and to extend mercy to those I may believe deserve it least. Amen.
 Tutu, Desmond (1999). No Future Without Forgiveness. New York, NY: Doubleday, a division of Random House, pp. 54-55.
Explore online Bible commentary for Matthew 5:38-43 at theTheology of Work Project.