Today’s Gospel reading is from the very challenging portion of Matthew’s Gospel in which we hear Jesus use the formula: “You have heard it said … but I say to you…” Basically, in all of these instructions, Jesus is taking the old Jewish law and cranking it up a notch. He teaches that anger, vengeance and libel are as disastrous as murder; that lust is as morally reprehensible as adultery. In today’s reading, Jesus takes on the concept of justice.
In the days before Jesus, justice was met by inflicting on the one who had wronged you what they had done to you. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; you steal one of my sheep, I take one of yours, that kind of thing. It’s a very primitive sort of justice, but to be honest, I think, one that still kind of resonates in our society. People might not like to say they believe this sort of thing, but you see it all the time.
Jesus isn’t into defining justice in this way. For Jesus, true justice consists in rendering to God what he belongs to God; it means giving to others as God has given to us. In a way, it’s the primordial form of the whole “pay it forward” idea. If God has been generous to us, then, in justice, we need to be generous to others. So we don’t argue about our tunic, but instead give our cloak as well. We go the extra mile, and never turn our back on those in need.
We believers have to get our heads around the idea of true justice. We have to be willing to give without counting the cost. We have to remember that in justice, we should be condemned for our many sins, but instead we have salvation in Christ Jesus. Because God has been merciful and generous to us, then in justice we must do the same for others.