You know that you have been taught, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I tell you not to try to get even with a person who has done something to you. When someone slaps your right cheek, turn and let that person slap your other cheek. If someone sues you for your shirt, give up your coat as well. If a soldier forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles. When people ask you for something, give it to them. When they want to borrow money, lend it to them.
You have heard people say, “Love your neighbors and hate your enemies.” But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong. If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors love their friends. If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about that? Don’t even unbelievers do that? But you must always act like your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:38-48)
Jesus asked for what seems impossible. He asked us to be nice to mean people. “Eye for eye” or “tooth for tooth” are phrases from the Law of Moses known as the lex talionis. That “law of the tooth” was summarized as “do to others as they have done to you.” But the purpose of that old “law of the tooth” wasn’t what most people thought. It was designed to place limits on judicial punishment: a criminal could not be made to suffer more than his victim. But by Jesus’ day, the phrase had become twisted into a justification for vengeance. Jesus explained that sort of thinking missed the whole point of what God was all about.
The way God treats us is how we should treat others. God is good to people who are not good to him or to anyone else. Loving those who love us is easy. God has called us to do something hard: to be like him and to love those who hate us.
God is good to us no matter what. His love is not dependent upon our performance. Jesus wants us to understand that real love is never based on performance. It can’t be earned. And he wants us to treat other people the same way that he treats them—and us. He wants us to love unconditionally.