Isn’t it true that we all want life to be fair? I can say with confidence that I have never met another person who said to me, “I insist that you treat me unfairly” When we were kids and we had to share a candy bar with a brother or sister, we wanted the bar to be divided in half because that was only fair. Of course, if we got more than half of the candy bar then we were okay with that as well.
Afterall, isn’t it Biblical that life should be fair. In the Old Testament we read, “19 Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury” (Leviticus 24:19-20). This Old Testament law was intended to keep things fair. When you sustained an injury, you could not demand a greater penalty from the offender than injury. The law stipulated an eye for an eye, so as to prevent someone who lost an eye from taking the life of the one who caused the injury. The law called for fairness and was intended to curb the natural desire for revenge.
We want things in life to be fair. But for many people, life or at least a part of life, has been or seems unfair. People have suffered, and may still be suffering, some injury or loss because of the unfairness of another or the unfairness of circumstances. Perhaps a loved one has died, and it feels terribly unfair that they died. Perhaps they were laid off from a job and poor performing co-workers got to keep their jobs. It was not right. It was unfair. Perhaps someone just cannot seem to get the government or an insurance company to correct a problem they have been experiencing and it is unfair that they are being penalized. There are a great many reasons why moments and events in our life seem terribly unfair.
I would like you to take a moment right now and think of the most unfair person in your life. Now wait I said think about them. I did not say look around the room to see if they were here today! So think of the most unfair person you know. Think about how they have not “played fair” and have not been in balance. Do you have a good mental image of that person? Now, I am guessing that everyone has a different person in mind which means there are a lot of unfair people in the world. But what I wonder is shouldn’t we all have the same unfair person in mind? Some of you might be say, “What did the pastor say?” How can we all know the same unfair person?
Well, let’s look at our thinking about fairness. We think it is fair when someone treats us like we have treated them. We are good people, fair people, so when we treat people well and fairly, then we hope others will treat us well and fairly. However, it would also be true that if we treated someone badly, then we should expect and accept that are within their rights to treat us equally badly in return because doing so would be fair. The idea of an insult for an insult is fair even under the Old Testament law. Do we see how fairness works?
Now suppose someone responds to an insult with goodness. Under the idea of insult for insult which is fair, to respond with goodness to an insult would mean the response was a different sort of unfair treatment. Don’t get confused because we are about to transition from thinking in human terms to thinking like God.
In the way of God, unfair response is to give goodness, whether good is received or insult is received. In the way of God, God unfairly gives without regards to the scales of giving ever being balanced. In God’s way, God when wounded unfairly responds, and heals the wounds of the attacker. When we think like God, then we realize that we all know the same most unfair person there ever lived. His name is Jesus.
Let’s see how it can be that Jesus was unfair in the way he responded. Listen to Jesus’ words about being fairness and being unfair from our New Testament reading today. Jesus was speaking to his disciples and said to them, 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 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. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42). Do you get the breathtaking sense that in the way of God, a response of grace and mercy instead of fairness and justice was what Jesus wanted from his disciples? Jesus did not want his disciples to be fair. Jesus wanted his disciples to have a special, Godly way of unfairness.
Let’s look a little deeper. Jesus began with talking to his disciples about fairness and justice when he quoted from the Old Testament saying, “38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’” (Matthew 5:38). You can just picture Jesus waiting for his disciples to nod their heads in agreement with this ancient standard and agreeing, “Yes, we must be fair with one another.” When everyone’s attention fixed on Jesus and the ancient standard of fairness was firmly in their minds, Jesus then said that all important word in the Bible, “But.” Remember to circle and underline in your Bible the word “But” because that word means something important is about to be said, “39 But I [Jesus] tell you [my disciples], do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, [don’t be fair and hit them on the right cheek but instead give a Godly unfair response and] turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, [give a Godly unfair response and] hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, [give a Godly unfair response and] go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:39-41). Jesus was calling on his disciples to not be fair and trade insult for insult. Instead, Jesus wanted his disciples to abolish that ancient standard they had in their minds and give goodness in response to insult.
You can just imagine the astonished looks on the faces of Jesus disciples as the full weight of what Jesus said had begun falling upon them. Jesus wanted his disciples to exchange goodness for insult. How in the world could they do such a thing? Why in the world would they want to do such a thing? Where did Jesus get such an idea of exchanging goodness for insult?
Where did Jesus get that? Jesus got that from God’s Word, s Bible such as is found in the prophesy of Isaiah concerning the coming Messiah, concerning Jesus himself. In Chapter 50, Isaiah wrote of the Messiah, “6 I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. 7 Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore, I have set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame” (Isaiah 50:6-7). In Isaiah 53, we would also read of the Messiah, “4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6). The Messiah rather than respond against insult with insult would respond with goodness by taking upon himself the penalty owed by others. Jesus’ call upon his disciples to exchange goodness for insult was a foreshadowing of what Jesus would do for his disciples. When it would have been fair for Jesus to strike back with an eye for eye, Jesus would be unfair in a Godly sense and an offer goodness in exchange for each wound he received.
I am not sure the disciples would have understood the fullness of Jesus’ words. I am not sure I fully understand the full weight of Jesus’ words. Jesus was calling upon his disciples to be merciful, not fair. Jesus was calling on his disciples to be gracious, not fair. So radical was Jesus’ call that Jesus immediately expressed his call to his disciples again this way, “43 You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45). Jesus was explaining to his disciples how to act like God with mercy and grace. What is mercy? Mercy is God withholding from us what we deserve for our insulting God. Jesus was telling his disciples, now as a child of God, act with mercy and withhold from another what they deserve because of their insult to you. What is Grace? Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve based on our behavior. Jesus was now saying to his disciples since you are children of God give grace to those who do not deserve it, who in no way earned it. Mercy is taking care of what is there, and grace is taking care of what is not there. There is no fairness in what Jesus was calling his disciples to do because Jesus did not intend to give them what they deserved or only the grace they had earned.
Over and again, Jesus challenged his disciples to be merciful. Here are just a few examples:
- Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Mt 5:7)
- But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ (Mt 9:13 & 12:7)
- “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mk 5:19)
Jesus continued to explain to his disciples what he asked in this manner. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:46-48).
Jesus was describing fairness as sinners see fairness. Jesus was describing fairness the way the world sees fairness. The best the world can do is make fairness mean equal; good for good, and bad for bad. Jesus was saying God who is perfect gives better than that, God gives mercy where justice is due and grace where condemnation is earned. Now, Jesus said, “Seek to perfect like God.”
Jesus displayed that the perfection of God. The Apostle Paul taught the church see what Jesus did, “6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly… 8 God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6,8). Paul wanted the church, you and me, to know that Christ did not treat us fairly. Jesus did not give good because he received good. He did not give righteousness because we deserved it. Jesus gave us righteousness at the very moment we were his enemies. When Jesus was being nailed to the cross, Jesus begged God for the forgiveness (mercy and grace) to those holding the nails and swinging the hammer. We can think of sin as nails and hammer blows to Christ on the cross.
I cannot imagine my fate if God dealt fairly with me. And so, when I consider the mercy that I have received for what is there, sin, and the grace I have received for what is not there, unrighteousness, I am convicted that I must not be humanly fair toward others but must be God like with mercy and grace and forgiveness towards others. The Apostle Paul gave us some help with how to act. Paul wrote, “12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:12-13). If God has treated me this way, who am I to withhold such a gift of mercy, grace, and forgiveness from another. Think of the impact each of us can have by genuinely receiving the gift of grace and sharing it with a world that, at best, can give good when good is received and bad when bad is received. Let us then go and share with each other and those around that special sort of Godly response to unfairness expressed with the power of mercy and grace we have received from God through Jesus Christ. Amen and Amen.