The tragic news coming from Israel and Palestine these days is a vivid reminder of the ancient concept of punishment whereby the prescribed penalty is identical with or equivalent to the offence.?? This structure of rough justice is known as Lex Talionis/Law of Such,? which gives us the word retaliation.?? It is deeply embedded in the Old Testament as a way of limiting revenge.? In a society where vengeance could easily outstrip the original? offence, the law of like-for-like was an effort to curtail spiralling offences.
The literal application of the Lex Talionis gave way in most early societies to the idea that a victim of an offence could accept monetary compensation in lieu of exacting copy-cat offences.? This survives in our modern legal system in the awarding of damages for injuries or crimes.
Another modification of the Lex Talionis came with the idea of confiscation of the objects by means of which offences were committed.? We get an echo of this in the practice of having our driving licence suspended for a serious driving offence.
Perhaps the most serious blow to the Lex Talionis is Jesus teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: 38-42.? Jesus says, You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance.? On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.? And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him.? Give to anyone who asks and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.
Jesus radical words have entered our languages; we talk about going the extra mile but have they entered our conscience?? What would the world be like if we acted on what Jesus said?
The real secret of being a disciple is to allow Jesus to live out his sermon in us: Jesus in us offers the wicked no resistance, Jesus in us still turns the other cheek. Jesus in us still goes the extra mile if we let him.
At this time of heightened tension in the Holy Land I am reminded of a Palestinian Christians prayer and I offer it to you as a? prayer we may find helpful:
PRAY NOT FOR ARAB OR JEW, FOR PALESTINIAN OR ISRAELI.? BUT PRAY RATHER FOR OURSELVES, THAT WE MAY NOT DIVIDE THEM IN OUR PRAYERS BUT KEEP THEM BOTH TOGETHER IN OUR HEARTS.
Amen to that.
Fr Sean Wales, C.Ss.R.