“If someone takes your coat,
give him your cloak also.” Matthew 5:40
Jesus was a hard teacher. He said his yoke was easy and his burden light, but he apparently meant that, if we practice his teachings, it will go well with us in the long run. He could not have meant that it is easy to follow his directions all the time, because, frankly, it can be very hard.
Some of his instructions are so contrary to our human nature that, when we hear them or read them, our first inclination is to try to reason around them. “Yes, but…surely he didn’t really mean that, did he?"
The verse above is an example: “If someone takes your coat, give him your cloak also.” There are numerous statements of Our Lord on the same theme: “If someone asks you to go a mile with him, go two;” “If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other also.” “Do not resist an evil person.” And most difficult of all, “Love your enemies.”
This is the peace-loving Jesus speaking. But, there were times when he was not so peaceful, when he took a scourge and drove out the money-changers, or when he called his enemies whitewashed tombs and a brood of vipers.
How do we reconcile these seeming disparities in the greatest Teacher’s example?
I recently had a difficult time with a business associate. After my working very long and very hard for him, and following through on my commitments, he claimed utter disappointment and demanded certain large concessions. He also wished to back out of another contract with me, for which I had already done work. Rather than have an unhappy client, I conceded to his first demands, but resisted, in my mind, giving him the second piece of work for nothing.
When I shared this with my husband, he said, “Life is hard and lots of times it is unfair. This is not worth fighting over.”
When he said this, Jesus’s words came to my mind: “If someone takes your coat, give him your cloak also.”
As I pondered both my husband’s suggestion and Jesus’s statement, it occurred to me that the determining principle in whether to “fight back” or “give over” is related to our own well-being. There are things worth fighting for and things not worth the struggle. Jesus is telling us that part of being “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” is knowing when a quick concession is better than a fight.
And then, true to form, Jesus takes the lesson a step further. He says not only should we not demand our coat, but we should give our cloak as well.
The cloak was the most important garment worn in those days. It was the big outer garment that served multiple purposes. It covered all the other clothes, keeping them clean from the dusty environment; it kept a person warm in cold weather; it could even be used as a blanket at night, if you were traveling. It was a very important possession.
And Jesus is saying we should give it up, along with the less important thing that is demanded of us!
Again, Jesus had our own welfare in mind. It is actually best for us to take our hands off our things, our possessions, our needs, our wants, our desires. To be fully content, we must be willing to give all things over, even to our enemies. In so doing, we are reminding ourselves that our sufficiency is not of this world.
Secondly, Jesus had the welfare of our enemy in mind. By reaching out in generosity, in the face of opposition, we leave the entire matter at the feet of the opposer. We show him that we are not victims, that what he wants is less important to us than it is to him. When we do that, the other person is left to consider himself, before God.
What a liberating feeling comes from letting go! What a joy to let someone else carry the demands he has flung our way!
Yes, there are things worth fighting for, and things that are not worth the struggle. I am quite sure there are many more of the latter than the former.
Once we grasp this principle, we are on our way to fitting ourselves beneath the easy burden and the light yoke of Christ.