Shame and honor, and the maintenance of these divisions, were, in fact, primary moral values in the culture Jesus lived in. As a result, required retaliation was the rule in Jewish culture, as it has been in most human cultures. Without it, a man lost all honor and respect.
For Jesus to walk into the midst of that and to say, “Do not retaliate” is to subvert the whole honor/shame system (Luke 6:27-35) in one blow. People who heard this would wonder, “How do I find my self-image, my identity? How would I have any respect?”
Jesus is pointing radically to God: Who you are in God is who you are, nothing more and nothing less. In that free space there are no ups and downs, no dependence upon families and villages and friends for self-esteem, upon wealth or good societal standing for our inner value.
You might think Jesus is asking too much, or being unrealistic; but he is actually freeing you from all of the emotional ups and downs, the ego dramas, that create almost all human violence, self-hatred, and unhappiness.
Adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 371, day 384
I get frustrated when people say that these type of teachings by Jesus were not what he really meant, are meant in a metaphorical way, and are not to be taken literally. That’s rubbish. Why would he say them if he didn’t want us to live them out? The reason we shy away from teachings like this has more to do with the type of God we believe in than with what God is actually like. We want a God who will not bother us, a God we can make in our own image. It has been said by a few people that God made us in His image and we have been trying to return the favour ever since. Thankfully the liberating gospel of Jesus shows us otherwise.