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Jesus used the Bible seriously (but not literally)

April 11, 2024

Daily Scripture

Leviticus 24:18-20, Matthew 5:38-45

Leviticus 24
18 Someone who kills an animal may make amends for it: a life for a life. 19 If someone injures a fellow citizen, they will suffer the same injury they inflicted: 20 broken bone for broken bone, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The same injury the person inflicted on the other will be inflicted on them.

Matthew 5
38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth [Leviticus 24:20]. 39 But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. 40 When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. 41 When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you 45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

In the ancient Middle East, revenge often went beyond the initial injury (e.g., “you hurt me, I’ll kill your child”). The law of proportional revenge in Leviticus 24 (also Exodus 21, Deuteronomy 19) was more merciful than most. It stopped unlimited reprisals and made revenge relative—“an eye for an eye.” But Jesus wasn’t bound by that. He taught his followers to practice a more radical, difficult response: “Love your enemies.” As here, “Jesus routinely challenges the prevailing and literal reading of scripture.” *

  • “The Bible is more than just a big book of inspirational verses and some do’s and don’ts. It’s a story. And like any story, it requires proper context. The Bible we hold… today has been translated across multiple languages and was originally written in a culture much different than ours…. without proper context you will ultimately read the Bible out of context.” ** How can you learn to better relate all the Bible’s “pieces” to the big story it tells about God and God’s ways?

  • We think of ourselves as more tolerant than the ancient world. But we still sell T-shirts and bumper stickers with sayings like “I don’t get mad—I get even.” How does replacing a wish for revenge with an ideal of mutual love and service change human relationships for the better? In what ways did Jesus’ teaching speak to the spirit in which you deal with others?


Lord Jesus, please keep leading me into the quality of love Jesus taught. Let me measure even Bible texts against the three great commandments Jesus said are essential. Amen.

GPS Insights

Picture of David Andersen

David Andersen

David Andersen serves as the Leadership Development and Mentoring Ministry Program Director for all Resurrection locations. He is a life-long Kansas City native. He’s been married over 30 years and has two adult sons. He loves composing music, learning new things, writing, running, and creating spaces where people can encounter God.

Over the years, this one verse has captured my attention more than any of Jesus’ other teachings: “love your enemies.” Such bold, challenging words that speak peace to the revenge-seeking heart. To many, this notion seems hopelessly absurd or altruistic to the modern mind. 

I’m a peacemaker by nature and so I’ve always just taken it at face value. Okay, you should love your enemies and pray for those who hurt you. But I’ve seen plenty of real-world situations where Jesus-followers have not shared this perspective. 

As a guest speaker, I preached this passage at a church, and afterward I was openly challenged by a man who imagined Jesus as a big, burly carpenter who wouldn’t take any nonsense from anyone. He took Jesus’ throwing the money changers out of the temple as a template for handling conflict, rather than the messianic act that it was. In another context, a woman shook her head and said, “Jesus does not mean I’m supposed to love THEM,” as she told us stories about the militant political group that had persecuted her family in her home country. For her, God’s love could not–should not–be extended to these people. The list of people I’ve been told are excluded from the enemies Jesus said we should love is quite long: murderers, unfaithful spouses, dishonest business partners, terrorists, liberals, conservatives, distant fathers, and abusive relatives (just to name a few).

For years, my answer to those who challenged this teaching was the same: Jesus said it, I believe it, that settles it for me. (For the record, this was not a helpful response to genuine concerns about Jesus’ words.) The truth was that I didn’t really have any enemies, and it’s quite easy to tell people to love your enemies when you don’t have any.   

But this didn’t last.  As happens to most of us, I eventually came to a season where I had people who declared themselves my enemy and made sure I knew it. It became time to practice Jesus’ words. As I tried to put his words into action, I was tempted to pray for God to fix my enemies, to make them pay for the hurtful things they’ve said, for God to make them aware of the error of their ways. I wanted to pray for them to change, or for God to force them to change (which I knew God wouldn’t do).  

But Jesus’ challenge is to “bless those who curse you.” So, I began to pray blessings over my enemies. I prayed for God to be more present in their lives, to demonstrate to them the same astounding love God has shone to me. I prayed for them to know God is with them and for God to bless them with a deeper experience of Jesus’ love. Just to be clear, I didn’t pray for their schemes against me to succeed, but I did pray for them to encounter more of our loving God. Do you know what happened? My enemies repented and wrote me a 15-page apology!

Just kidding. That never happened. They didn’t change, and as far as I know, they have just as low a view of me now as they did back then. The powerful thing that happened was that I changed. My heart was softened toward them. The flow of bitterness within me was slowed. My anger was tempered. As I prayed, my heart moved from being AGAINST them to being FOR them. Nothing else changed. But it made all the difference in the world.

Jesus truly is brilliant. I expected my enemies to change, but that’s not how Jesus works. The truth is that it’s incredibly difficult to remain bitter toward the person you’re praying for. The first person who changes when you love your enemies is you. Who needs your prayers of blessing today?

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* Hamilton, Adam, Wrestling with Doubt, Finding Faith (p. 42). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
** Tyler Speegle, “Five Signs You’re Reading the Bible All Wrong.” Relevant Magazine, web version (click here to read the full article).