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In Case You Missed It -- Deuteronomy 19-20, Psalm 108

Deuteronomy 19:21 commands what many have called lex talionis, the law of retaliation. Strict retaliation demands that whatever someone steals, they also lose, whether money or body parts. Jesus famously addresses lex talionis in the Sermon on the Mount, instructing his disciples not to return equal punishment on those that harm them (Matthew 5:38-42). Many people misunderstand what Jesus is doing. Jesus is not calling into question the justice of lex talionis, for justice naturally punishes people in the ways they have punished others. Rather, Jesus is calling the early disciples to forebear against those who harm them and not pursue strict justice, but mete out forgiveness. During this past Good Friday sermon, I heard a preacher note that if Jesus got off the cross and did not die for us, Jesus would still be just; we just would not have received Jesus’ grace. I want to suggest that Jesus’ call for His disciples to abandon lex talionis does not urge them to abandon justice altogether, but rather to forebear demanding justice in personal matters. Justice is the necessary backdrop for grace to shine through Jesus and His followers in our unjust and graceless world.

Jeremiah Vaught