Curiously, there are only two things you absolutely HAVE to do in life. You might say you HAVE to eat, or collect the kids from school, but even these are a choice. Just that the consequences of not doing them are unthinkable. The two things then? To die, and to take up space. Maybe a useless piece of information, but actually, it does free you up, to realise you ARE choosing your life.
So when the government demands its taxes, you are choosing to pay, rather than face prison. Work is a choice you preferred to having no resources. Cleaning up is better than living in the mess, you have decided. You don’t HAVE to keep people happy, you choose. Empowering isn’t it?
So when someone turns nasty on you, or is rude to you, or takes advantage of you, how do you react, knowing the choice is yours? If they are stronger, or more powerful, a wise choice is usually damage limitation. Pride would have us rise up unthinkingly and fight our corner, but the outcome may actually turn out worse. These were the sort of situations Jesus was talking about in Matthew 5:38-42 – like a personal attack, or enforced labour.
The Jews had put in place the ‘eye for an eye’ ruling, to prevent escalation of vengeance – you were limited to retribution only equal to the damage suffered. But here Jesus was advising an alternative approach. The occupying Roman forces might commandeer anything they pleased – possessions, labour, liberty. Naturally, pride would rise up to fight back. But Jesus was not advocating natural reactions, but supernatural responses, where Holy Spirit wisdom carefully chose the pathway, where self was controlled, and the outcome the most desirable. At worst, they would be no worse off, with only pride a little dented. At best they might win over their enemy, shame them into better behaviour, and make a friend.
Injustice riles us, people can get nasty, life can seem very unfair. If we let our pride rule the situation, we don’t generally achieve the best outcome. We can be directed by anger, or we can take a moment to ask Holy Spirit to guide us. We may still have to fight, but it will be cleverer boxing; or he may urge us to respond in a different way. Whatever your enemy can do to you, he can never take away your freedom to choose how you react.