Eye for Eye
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Since all of these passages are rooted in the Old Testament teachings from the Torah, it is important for us to understand what Jesus is referring to in this text. Here is a good synopsis of the Old Testament teaching on this matter.
The concept of “an eye for eye,” sometimes called jus talionis or lex talionis, is part of the Mosaic Law used in the Israelites’ justice system. The principle is that the punishment must fit the crime and there should be a just penalty for evil actions: “If there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Exodus 21:23–25). Justice should be equitable; excessive harshness and excessive leniency should be avoided. (Gotquestions.org)
The article goes on to say that rarely was this law enforced literally, but used as a guideline for the cases that came before the Jewish courts. Remember the Jews lived in a theocracy, so there was no separation between church and state. When there was a breaking of the Law, the matter was settled within the Jewish legal system.
But the Pharisees in Jesus' day were using this as a basis for advocating personal retaliation. If someone punches you, punch them back.
So in order to properly understand what Jesus is teaching, we need to understand he is separating out how to act in personal relationship versus what the law would require. Meaning Jesus is teaching the people not to take justice into their own hands but respond in love and forgiveness, as a sign of the coming kingdom. He is not saying that evil should go unpunished, but in as much as we can represent God's love of sinners ,we should forgive as a sign of the kingdom. The Christian is radically different from those who follow the natural inclination to respond in kind.
An example of this would be a person who was a victim of a crime, who was at the trial of the person who committed the crime. At the verdict, the person could forgive the offender, but yet the judge would still render the verdict justly convicting the person of the crime committed and doling out the just penalty.
At the end of the day we see Jesus, who was sinless, nailed to the cross for we who are sinful and guilty as charged. Jesus said to the men who nailed him to the cross, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." Likewise, instead of judgment, we have received mercy. So if we feel the need to personally retaliate an eye for an eye, we might remember his words "forgive as he was forgiven".