Week of Proper 6: Monday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  Code of Hammurabi

A Different and Better Way Living in Love

JUNE 19, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


2 Corinthians 6:1-10 (An American Translation):

(I have reformatted the text for clarity.)

As God’s fellow-worker, I appeal to you, too, not to accept the favor of God then waste it.  For he says,

I have listened to you at a welcome time,

And helped you on a day of deliverance!

Now the welcome time has come!

This is the day of deliverance!  I put no obstacles in anyone’s path, so that no fault may be found with my work.  On the contrary, as a servant of God, I try in every way to commend myself in them, through my great endurance in

  • troubles,
  • difficulties,
  • hardships,
  • beatings,
  • imprisonments,
  • riots,
  • labors,
  • sleepless nights,
  • and hunger,


  • my purity of life,
  • my knowledge,
  • my patience,
  • my kindness,
  • my holiness of spirit,
  • my genuine love,
  • the truth of my teaching,
  • and the power of God;

with the weapons of uprightness for the right hand and the left,

in honor or dishonor,

in praise or blame;

  • considered an imposter, when I am true,
  • obscure, when I am well known,
  • at the point of death, yet here I am alive,
  • punished, but not dead yet,
  • pained, when I always glad,
  • poor, when I make many others rich,
  • penniless, when I really own everything.

Psalm 98 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Sing to the LORD a new song,

for he has done marvelous things.

2 With his right hand and his holy arm

has he won for himself the victory.

3 The LORD has made known his victory;

his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

4 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel,

and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

5 Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands;

lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

6 Sing to the LORD with the harp,

with the harp and the voice of song.

7 With trumpets and the sound of the horn

shout with joy before the King, the LORD.

8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it,

the lands and those who dwell therein.

9 Let the rivers clap their hands,

and the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,

when he comes to judge the earth.

10 In righteousness shall he judge the world

and the peoples with equity.

Matthew 5:38-42 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,] “You have heard that they were told, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I tell you not to resist injury, but if anyone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other to him too; and if anyone wants to sue for your shirt, let him have your coat too.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go two miles with him.  If anyone begs from you, give to him, and when anyone wants to borrow money from you, do not turn away.”


The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


And if people will fight, and they strike a pregnant woman, and her children go out, and there will not be an injury, he shall be penalized according to what the woman’s husband will impose on him, and he will give it by the judges.  And if there will be an injury, then you shall give a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a hurt for a hurt.

And if a man will strike his slave’s eye or his maid’s eye and destroy it, he shall let him go, liberated, for his eye.  And if he will knock out his slave’s tooth or his maid’s tooth, he shall let him go liberated for his tooth.

–Exodus 21:22-27, Translated by Richard Elliott Friedman

(Commentary on the Torah with a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text, HarperCollins, 2001)

A common oversimplification of the presentation of God in the Hebrew Bible is that God is harsh there yet merciful in the New Testament.  Actually reading the Bible carefully should correct this understanding, although one cannot be sure of this at all times.  In fact, the God of the Hebrew Bible can be quite merciful and God can seem harsh in the New Testament.  Judgment and mercy coexist in both Testaments.

Consider the “an eye for an eye” rule, for example.  It is a variation on an older law code, the Code of Hammurabi.  Hammurabi was an 18th Century B.C.E. Mesopotamian king.     The following laws come from that code:

(196)  If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.

(197)  If he break another man’s bone, his bone shall be broken.

(198)  If he put out the eye of a freed man, or break the bone of a freed man, he shall pay one gold mina.

(199)  If he put out the eye of a man’s slave, or break the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half of its value.

(200)  If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out.

(201)  If he knock out the teeth of a freed man, he shall pay one-third of a gold mina.

(202)  If any one strike the body of a man higher in rank than he, he shall receive sixty blows with an ox-whip in public.

(203)  If a free-born man strike the body of another free-born man or equal rank, he shall pay one gold mina.

(204)  If a freed man strike the body of another freed man, he shall pay ten shekels in money.

(205)  If the slave of a freed man strike the body of a freed man, his ear shall be cut off.

(206)  If during a quarrel one man strike another and wound him, then he shall swear, “I did not injure him wittingly,” and pay the physicians.

(207)  If the man die of his wound, he shall swear similarly, and if he (the deceased) was a free-born man, he shall pay half a mina in money.

(208)  If he was a freed man, he shall pay one-third of a mina.

(209)  If a man strike a free-born woman so that she lose her unborn child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss.

(210)  If the woman die, his daughter shall be put to death.

(211)  If a woman of the free class lose her child by a blow, he shall pay five shekels in money.

(212)  If this woman die, he shall pay half a mina.

(213)  If he strike the maid-servant of a man, and she lose her child, he shall pay two shekels in money.

(214)  If this maid-servant die, he shall pay one-third of a mina.

(The full English translation is here:  http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/MESO/CODE.HTM.)

Relative to the subsequent Law of Moses, the Code of Hammurabi was harsher and made distinctions in the favor the the powerful, wealthy, and male.  An injured servant was still a servant under the Code of Hammurabi, for example, but was free under the provisions of the Law of Moses.  The function of the “eye for an eye” provision in the Law of Moses was to restrict vengeance.  And, in practical reality, people settled on financial penalties for physical injuries anyway.

But Jesus taught with his words and his deeds that we ought not to seek retaliation.  “An eye for an eye and a tooth for the tooth” leaves the world blind and toothless.”  I have heard this sentence in various media, including an episode of Babylon 5.  How can we reconcile and forgive each other if we are plotting revenge?

I think of the examples of those who have practiced nonviolence as a strategy of social change.  Mohandas K. Gandhi said that those who beat people who refuse to strike back begin to question themselves after a few blows.  What kind of person continues striking someone who refuses to resist?  How long can one justify to oneself committing such violence?  If the other person would just hit back, the internal dialogue would be different.  I recall also the nonviolent tactics of United States civil rights activists in the 1960s.  Not to strike back required great moral courage and denied the perpetrators of violence any semblance of moral justification for their heinous actions.

Revenge on Germany after World War I helped pave the road to the rise of the Nazi Party to power and the subsequent World War II.  After World War II, the United States helped rebuild Germany and Japan, which have become allies.  We need to remember this simple lesson more often than we do when considering foreign policy.  The monsters we fight are often those we have created via our anger and retribution.

If anyone had reasons to be angry, it was Paul of Tarsus.  Consider what he suffered for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Reread the passage from 2 Corinthians.  Paul is far from resentful.  He does, in fact, demonstrate “genuine love.”  And, as he writes, we ought not accept then waste the favor of God.  He did not, as history tells us.

Psalm 98 tells us that God has won and shown his victory.  Paul writes that the day of deliverance and divine favor has come.  We ought not seek retribution on such a glorious day.  This is a difficult lesson, for the desire to avenge oneself or another person is natural.  I know this desire.  But there is a better way, and it is called love.  Let us leave such judgment to God, who is wiser than we can ever hope to be, and, in grace, seek to build a beloved community of humans, for the benefit of all and the glory of God.

The note for Matthew 5:39-42 in The Orthodox Study Bible (2008) contains the following:

A saint of the desert once found his hut being looted of its paltry possessions, and he knelt in the corner praying for the bandits.  When they left, the monk realized that they had not taken his walking stick.  This monk pursued them for many days until he was able to give them the stick as well.  Seeing his humility, the bandits returned everything to him and were converted to Jesus Christ.

The point is this:  Only good defeats evil and brings our enemies.  If we resist evil with evil, we compromise ourselves morally and become our own enemy.  By grace, may we live according to love.  May we not play God, who alone has the right to make certain judgments.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: