“…until you have paid the last penny.”
When we let hatred and bitterness overwhelm us, we imprison ourselves. We become bastions of pride and self-deception. Caved in on ourselves, we will not get out until we pay the last farthing (or penny). What imprisons us and relegates us to live outside the loving presence of God is, at the bottom, the choices we make turning away from the truth.
The truth given by the Lord Jesus in the passage from the Sermon on the Mount is a difficult one like many others. Our instinct is to hold fast to the injustices we have suffered. To rage against those who have wronged us. To cast our opponents in an unflattering light. Oh, how deeply counterintuitive Jesus’ teachings are! I submit this is a good thing. What we need is less of our intuitions about how we ought to be toward God and our fellow man. Our intuitions, what we immediately want to do when we are wronged, is to strike out in anger. We want to call someone useless or foolish. We want to dehumanize them. We want to do unto them as they have done unto us, instead of the reverse. But what does this get us in the end? Do we feel better? Does it make the injustice go away? Does it take away the pain? Does it bring back the relationship? The answer, much to our chagrin, is no. Jesus helpfully provides us the corrective course of action.
What happens when we fail to work out our problems with the spirit of Christ, is that we bear the brunt of the bad outcome. We are handed over to the judge, and then the guard, and finally, we are imprisoned. When we are angry with other people or hate them, we that drink the poison of contempt and hope the other person gets sick. I can count many times where my self-righteous indignation demanded that I take justice into my own hands. I just had to say it. “At least I have my pride.” Yes, and that’s all I wound up with. A core theme of the Bible is that our intuitions and ways of thinking about things are not always God’s ways. Indeed, many times they are not. That is why God so graciously provides examples and teachings for us to aid the journey we take through life. He gives us grace sufficient for the troubles of the day. If we settle with our brother quickly, if we make sure that animosity does not become toxic sludge in our veins, we win in the end. We keep a friend or colleague. We keep ourselves in control. We keep ourselves on God’s side.