Some people try to justify their evil actions by quoting the principle “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This legal principle is known as “lex talionis”; the law of retaliation. The principle was given by God to Israel through Moses. It did not give people an excuse for vicious personal revenge, but limited the extent of retaliation. It established the principle of justice. The punishment must fit the crime. It did not authorise either excessive revenge or personal mutilation of the person who had committed the offence.
God gave Moses examples of its application. “If an owner hits a male or female slave in the eye and the eye is blinded, then the slave may go free because of the eye. And if an owner knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave, the slave should be released in payment for the tooth.” So the lex talionis provided protection for the weak and vulnerable, for women as well as men. When they were mistreated they were entitled to legal protection and compensation.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sets out much more radical principles. There is to be no retaliation and revenge in his Kingdom. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, don’t resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat as well. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your father in heaven.”
The teaching of Jesus is a challenge to us all. Retaliation and revenge, whether committed by individuals or governments, are not a sign of strength, but of weakness. The experience of God’s sheer love and grace in Jesus, of which none of us is worthy, creates the context in which loving our enemies becomes a possibility. I remember meeting with a group of Iranian Christians to study the parable of Jesus about the Good Samaritan. In the parable a Samaritan man saves the life of a wounded Jewish man, even though Jews and Samaritans were enemies. One of the Iranians said, “If we are to obey the teaching of Jesus in this parable then it means we must love Iraqi people!”
Last Sunday Christians around the world remembered the coming of the Holy Spirit. On the last night Jesus was with his disciples he told them that, although he was leaving them to go to the cross, he would send the Holy Spirit to them. He said, “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper to be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth.” Six weeks later, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came on the Apostles and they proclaimed the good news of Jesus to a great crowd gathered in Jerusalem. That day 3000 people became followers of Jesus.
The coming of the Holy Spirit transformed the Apostles. After the death of Jesus they were in despair and it seemed extremely unlikely that they would change the world. However, when Jesus rose from the dead and then sent the Holy Spirit the Apostles were wonderfully empowered. Despite constant persecution from religious people and from the Romans, Christianity grew and spread to every part of the Empire.
The power of the Holy Spirit was also seen 1904-05 Revival in Wales, which spread to England, Scotland and North America. It was a time of great social change. The churches were in decline and there was a growing indifference to religion. Through the preaching of men like Evan Roberts the Holy Spirit transformed the lives of many people. It is estimated that in one year more than 100,000 people became Christians and joined the chapels in Wales alone.
The Holy Spirit can change anyone, even those who are totally opposed to Jesus. One young man who was converted during the revival was Conolwyn Pugh. He was making a name for himself as a cornet player, but his family were always at the revival meetings. One night, after a very successful concert, he came home to an empty house. All the family were at the chapel. He was angry and decided to go to the chapel and tell his family and the people what he thought of them. The chapel was packed, but he managed to find a seat. As he listened to the preacher the Holy Spirit convicted him of his sin. He went to the front of the chapel seeking salvation. That night he became a Christian and was a changed man. He became a minister of the Gospel and served in a church in Chicago. Today, all around the world, the Holy Spirit is still changing lives.
Some years ago I visited Cambodia. On the flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh I sat next to an American lady. She told me she was going to visit a Cambodian child whom she was sponsoring. Each month she sent money to an aid agency to help provide food, clothing and school fees for this child. More than 9 million children around the world have sponsors like this lady. The total value of the sponsorship is £2 billion pounds each year. The aim of sponsorship is to give children living in the poorest countries of the world the opportunity to overcome deprivation and achieve their potential.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) “children living in poverty are those who experience deprivation of the material, spiritual and emotional resources needed to survive, develop and thrive, leaving them unable to enjoy their rights, achieve their full potential or participate as full and equal members of society” A recent study assessed the effectiveness of sponsorship in 6 developing countries across the world. The results showed that sponsored children stayed in school longer, were more likely to have white collar jobs and were more likely to be leaders in their communities and churches.
The study also showed that the spiritual aspect of sponsorship plays a vital part in transforming children’s lives. Sponsorship builds children’s self-esteem and aspirations. It makes them happier and more hopeful. In Uganda the impact on education was particularly striking. Sponsored children were 42% more likely to finish secondary education and 83% more likely to complete university. The leader of one aid agency said, “There’s a huge psychological benefit for a child to know that someone on the other side of the world really loves and cares about them.”
Knowing there is someone who really loves and cares about us is a need we all have, whether we are children or adults or live in a poor or prosperous country. Loves gives, not takes; it does not seek its own interests, but seeks to enrich the lives of others. The Christian message declares the amazing love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul, whose life was transformed by an encounter with the risen Jesus, said, “I live my life by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Experiencing the love of Jesus, who really cares about us, transforms our lives and gives us hope!
The death toll following the collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing factory complex in Bangladesh has risen to more than 600 people. Rescue workers are exhausted and the relatives of the victims are grief stricken as each day bodies are brought out of the ruins of the eight-storey building. This is Bangladesh’s worst industrial disaster. A preliminary government investigation thinks that vibrations from four generators on the upper floor caused the collapse. The generators were started following a power cut sending powerful vibrations throughout the building which, together with the vibrations from thousands of sewing machines, may have triggered the collapse.
The building was designed to be used for offices and shops and was poorly constructed. It housed an intensive clothing industry making cheap clothes for the Western world. The Bangladeshi Finance Minister said that steps are being taken to prevent similar accidents but he does not think the collapse will seriously impact the country’s garment industry. Bangladesh has one of the largest garment industries in the world.
This tragedy brings home to us the realities of living in a Global Village. Factory workers in places like Bangladesh work very long hours and earn very low wages. A factory worker in Bangladesh works up to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and earns £40 a month. The designer clothes they make are sold in affluent countries for very low prices. Large companies make big profits and shoppers in affluent countries find bargains. Should the tragedy in Bangladesh make us think?
God is deeply concerned for social justice and for the oppression of poor people. In the New Testament James challenges the rich who have much more than they need yet do not care for the poor. He writes, “Look here, you rich people, weep and groan because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver have become worthless. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgement. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” We pray that God will comfort the bereaved in Bangladesh and that we will be concerned that workers there should work in safe buildings and be paid a fair rate for their labour.