Lent – Day 19 – A Study of Matthew 5
“If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” Matthew 5:40
This is a hard saying no matter how you look at it. But, if we remember the fundamental truth of what Jesus was preaching concerning the Law of Moses and the fulfillment of the law in Him we can find not only the power to do it but also to understand it’s meaning and purpose.
No one naturally gives up his possessions to a thief who has already violated his sense of personal place and property protected as sacred under the law. A person’s home is their uniquely owned and kept possession. Your clothes are personal possessions that help to define your tastes and sense of style and how you present and represent yourself to the world. They have both monetary and intrinsic value. They also represent your time and energy spent to earn the money to purchase them. When someone steals from you, they are in effect taking a part of your life. The greater the sacrifice made to acquire the things that were stolen the greater the portion of your life they have taken from you.
While things are never to be worshiped nor placed in a higher place of value than a human life, some things, nevertheless, can have a representational value of our time, energy, investment of emotion and sacrifice to acquire them.
Now, Jesus says, “…when someone wants to sue you…” not that they have already done so. Just the fact that they have threatened to do so, you should not only give them what they are suing for, but, even more than that, give them additionally something of greater value. The tunic was an essential undergarment worn by Jewish men, basically, a shirt. The cloak was a much more expensive and important outer garment that was for warmth and worn as a covering for sleeping out doors while traveling.
By giving it up to the one suing another within in the community of faith, the situation could quickly be resolved without going before a magistrate or public court, bringing a brother or neighbor before a secular judge [I Corinthians 6] to decide a matter that is already set forth in the Law of Moses for the people of God.
Since Jews in Jesus’s earthly ministry were not generally given to making covenants of business or property with those outside the community of Israel it is reasonable to say that the reference to “anyone” would only refer to fellow Jews, not the general public. So what He was teaching them was how to deal with matters of suits over property and the like in a way that diffuses the anger and reactionary threats and maintains peace and harmony among the brethren. For believers today, the message is clear. It is better to lose a shirt than bring reproach on the whole church by a public trial and a verdict that could ruin every one involved.