Prepare to be amazed again at the wisdom of Jesus, The truth upside down! Here is another tough teaching to swallow and apply, Jesus tells us next in Matthew 5:40, “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” That just sounds dandy, however, Jesus can’t really mean what He’s saying can He?
First, let’s look at the situation in ancient Israel: I want you to imagine the crippling effect of the taxation imposed by the Romans. The economy is falling apart, people are having to sell their lands and homes because of this extreme taxation. And who is there to buy these lands and take advantage–the wealthy–often their own people, the wealthy Jewish ruling class.
And so….. here you are having to sell the land of your fathers……the home and land that has been passed down for generations, and you are forced now to work it for a pittance, a daily wage, because it doesn’t belong to you anymore. Again…… humiliating and painful!
Jesus is talking here about this type of situation, where you are being sued by the owner of your property, often a wealthy Jew of your own people!
In that day you wore two garments: you wore a garment up against your skin, like a tunic or shirt and then you’d wear a coat over top of that.
So Jesus says that if somebody comes after you and they sue you and the only thing of worth you have left is your coat, this is how bad it’s gotten. “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”
Wait! There’s two garments everybody would have been wearing! If he takes off his shirt AND his coat what is he now wearing? Nothing! And it’s not his birthday!
Okay, so if these guys are standing here buck “NAKED”, where is all the shame? Most of you would probably be blushing right now! In Jewish culture, nakedness wasn’t first and foremost the shame or the humiliation of the person who was naked–it was always the person who was viewing it.
That’s why Noah’s sons, when Noah get’s drunk and naked, are in such a bad place. It’s because they witnessed their father’s nakedness. It’s the person who witnesses the nakedness who has the shame and humiliation.
So, see what you have here, Jesus paints this picture and all the shame and humiliation is on who? The rich man! His actions may be legal but are they right? The poor man just flipped everything upside down! The rich man is in an awkward position. What kind of cruel, wicked, cold hearted person would actually take the second garment?
To people who have been oppressed, shamed and humiliated, what Jesus is saying is turning things upside down—it’s GENIUS! In the end, the guy handing over his coat has asserted his dignity! In the first part of this Scripture Jesus doesn’t tell us not to resist evil but to resist an evil person–to take the high road. This asserts our dignity! Let the final justice be in God’s hands, in the hands of the civil authorities. Don’t retaliate and seek revenge.
In the first example, Jesus tells us that turning the other cheek asserts YOUR dignity and shows your strength of character!
In this second example, Jesus tells us again that by giving up our last garment we have asserted our dignity, taken the high road and shown through this simple action who the evil person really is!