“And behold, it is written, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; But I say unto you, that ye shall not resist evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also;”
This is reforming the law of retaliation or lex talionis. When first adopted, the law of retaliation was designed to limit retribution. It was merciful in the context of the time. It prevented taking a life for an eye. The scope of the injury suffered put a limit on the scope of the retaliation permitted. I taught a class on this ancient law in the BYU Education Week some years ago. It is too much to cover in this post in order to fully understand the ramifications of this law.
The popular understanding of that law is quite a distortion. The injury permitted was not actually exacted under the law. “An eye for an eye” meant that the victim was entitled to take the eye of the one causing the injury. In practice the eye was not taken. The value of the eye was agreed upon between victim and perpetrator. They sealed the agreement before two witnesses in the gate of the city. Then the debtor was obligated to pay the agreed sum (called “satisfaction”). If he defaulted the elders could take the eye as penalty for the default in payment, which stood as collateral for the debt.
Payment of “satisfaction” was permitted and given for offenses under the lex talionis except in the case of a limited class of offenses, including murder. (Numbers 35: 31-32.) In such cases it was considered too dangerous to allow satisfaction, and therefore the penalty needed to be carried out.
Here, Christ is replacing that entire body of law by substituting forgiveness and mercy for justice and recompense. The victim is being urged to seek nothing in return for his injury. Instead, the victim is to bear the injury and allow evil against themselves without retaliation for the offense.
This may seem odd, even wrong. However, there is an example of this in the Book of Mormon. Although many lives were lost in the process, it resulted in the salvation of many souls. The Anti-Lehi-Nephites were unwilling to take up arms to defend themselves, instead allowing their enemies to slay them. The result broke the hearts of those who were killing them, and many were converted by this example. (See Alma 24: 19-27.) But the people of God were joined by more than the number who were slain.
The book by C. Terry Warner titled The Bonds That Make Us Free: Healing Our Relationships, Coming to Ourselves explains how the actions of those who forgive are able to break the hearts of those who are forgiven. There is not merely freedom in forgiving others, there is power in it as well. Terry Warner’s book is an examination of the principles of sin and forgiveness, and worth reading if you have not done so before.
We gain power by what things we suffer for the Lord’s sake. Christ who loved the most, sacrificed the most. Those two things are linked together.
This teaching was not only given by Christ, but it was lived by Him also. In this statement, as in no other, He is defining who He is and revealing what His conduct invariably will be. This is the Lord’s standard. This is the Lord’s manner. The choice of turning the other cheek is taken from the Messianic standard described by Isaiah. (Isa. 50: 6; also 53: 5.) We can also heal others by the things we willingly suffer. We can endure and forgive. As we do righteousness increases on the earth.
Saint Francis Assisi believed this, practiced it. In an age of darkness and apostasy, the Lord spoke with St. Francis, and sent angels to minister to him. He is appropriately referred to as a Saint. He lived the Sermon on the Mount. It is perhaps St. Francis, who above all others, proves a mortal may walk in the Lord’s steps. Christ did it first and more completely than would any other. But St. Francis surely followed.
I have little doubt that the Lord’s teachings are impractical in this world. But, then again, we are not called to live for this world, are we? The reason Zion always flees from this world is precisely because the Lord will not permit the world to overwhelm those who would surely be overthrown if not for His grace and protection. He will fight their battles to spare those in Zion from the necessity of becoming warlike. (D&C 105: 14.)
I am amused by the martial inclinations of the Latter-day Saints. When the lamb and lion lie down together I suppose many of the Latter-day Saints expect to be able to hunt them both.
In this reformation alone Christ proves Himself to be a sage. He was more than a wise teacher, He was the Great Teacher. This concept alone makes Him one of the greatest social reformers of the ancient world.
You can judge another based on conduct. They either do or do not do something. The conduct is observable, and therefore capable of being judged. Now, however, Christ moves the battleground inside a person. It is now in the heart. On such terrain as that, man is incapable of knowing, and therefore, of judging.
He really can save you. He has that power. He holds those keys. Even death and hell are conquered by Him. (Mosiah 15: 7-9.) But His victory cannot become ours unless we repent and turn again to Him.
It seems too simple a thing to achieve so great a result. It has always been like that. (1 Nephi 17: 41.) Look to Him and be saved. Keep His commandments. Repent. He can and will lead you from wherever you find yourself at present back into the light. It really does not matter what foolish traps you have surrounding you. So soon as you turn to face Him, He will direct you back safely. Repent and keep His commandments and they will bring you to Him.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the salt of the earth; but if the salt shall lose its savor wherewith shall the earth be salted? The salt shall be thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.”
How can salt “lose its savor” except through contamination or impurities? When that is lost, the salt cannot preserve. There is no remaining savor. Then the salt is nothing more than common dirt, to be cast aside and trodden under foot.
This is the gentile predicament in the last days. They will, of course, lose their savor. They will reject the fullness offered to them. (3 Nephi 16: 10.) When they do, they will be torn apart and trodden under foot. (3 Nephi 20: 16; 3 Nephi 21: 12.)
Notice it is the Lord who “gives unto you to be the salt of the earth.” This condition is a gift from God. Through repentance, or turning to Him, you can receive this. Without repentance you cannot become the salt.
There are no private lives. Every life counts. Your private devotions are more important than your public notice. The salt which preserves may be unknown, likely is unknown, to most people. But if you are the salt, then your private life of devotion to the Lord is saving the lives of many others. The angels want to begin the harvest. They are impatient to begin reaping and cutting down the wicked now. (D&C 86: 5.) There is only time given because of a few who deserve more time to grow in faith before the harvest begins. (D&C 86: 6-7.) Your growth is all that is keeping the harvest from beginning now. Therefore, how you proceed has consequences far beyond your own life.
When wheat is ripe it will be protected. When tares are ripe they will be burned. But the tender plants worthy of preservation are the only ones allowed more time. (D&C 86: 4.) I advocate for them and realize how tenuous a position humanity itself is in at present. But you are the ones in the balance and for whom time is granted. How much longer no one knows, but your sins are not private. Your repentance is critical to all of creation. Do not think your life is your own. All of us have a share in your good works.
Do not think the Savior’s words are without cosmic significance. I define “cosmic” to include the cosmos or organized creation here. Even the earth itself longs to be freed from the burden of sin upon her face. (Moses 7: 48.) It is the Lord alone who has granted you time to repent. This current state of the creation we live is affected by the promise held in those who are repenting. As soon as that hope ends, and no further repentance is to occur, then the harvest will begin. Therefore, becoming salt has never been so important as it now is.