What is Jesus speaking of here?
First, there is a practical issue, and that relates to getting through this physical lifetime with a minimal of hassles. Yes, the short lifetime of this human form is not meant for struggling with each other over petty issues that can be easily settled or compromised.
Rather, this human life is meant for coming to understand our true identity and our relationship with the Supreme Being. This is the purpose of having the intelligence to discern right and wrong, and being able to learn from our mistakes. This is the purpose of having the mental capacity of being able to study the scriptures and learn about the Supreme Being. This is the purpose of having the capacity to look deep within ourselves and understand that we have an existence that is deeper than these temporary physical bodies.
Yes, this physical body is temporary. We will only have it for a few decades and then we must leave it behind. What will we do during the time we have it? How will we use our precious time as the minutes tick away towards a moment we know not in advance?
Our relationship with God
Jesus' teachings indicate that our life should be directed towards realizing our relationship with the Supreme Being:
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? ... So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matt. 6:25-33)In this instruction and others we find a consistent message from Jesus - "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness." Is Jesus saying that we should seek to obtain the place called heaven - "His kingdom"? Actually, the word "kingdom" is a mistranslation of the Greek word, βασιλεία (basileia). This word means, according to the lexicon, "royal power, kingship, dominion, rule - not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom."
Thus Jesus is speaking of accepting the Supreme Being's dominion - specifically His dominion over our lives. This means to take shelter of the Supreme Being - and surrender our lives to Him.
Why is this so important? Because this is our identity. We are not rulers. We are not bosses by nature. Sure, most of us want to be the boss - the president or the CEO or the world champion. But none of us are these things. In fact, in the grand scheme of the universe, each of us is no more significant than one grain of sand on miles and miles of beach.
By nature we not bosses. We are not masters.
We can tell this simply by looking around and experiencing life for a few years. We are always controlled by the forces of nature, the forces of society, the forces of economics, the forces of our body. Try as we might, we have no real control over these forces. Sure, we may be able to influence some things - related to a limited range of choices - but we cannot control the big things like time, the weather, our body's aging, the actions of other people and so on.
This means we are not masters. We are not bosses or kings by nature. Rather, we are subordinates by nature.
Our true nature is that each of us was created by the Supreme Being as one of His subordinates. Our nature - and the reason for our existence - is to love and serve the Supreme Being.
But because love requires the freedom not to love, each of us was given the freedom to love the Supreme Being or not. Those who choose to love the Supreme Being are engaged in His loving service within the spiritual realm or elsewhere.
But those who choose not to love the Supreme Being are granted an avenue to escape His existence. This is why we are dwelling within this temporary physical body within the physical universe - because we rejected our natural position as one of His loving servants, and chose instead to try to enjoy life without Him.
So how is this working out for us? Not so good. Just a cursory look around just this planet finds a human race roiled in violence and struggle - focused on our petty differences and constantly fighting with each other - for territory, money, and superiority.
Yes, as individuals and communities, we are struggling to be master, and due to the fact that none of us is master, we violently confront each other. We find religious sects fighting each other. We find political parties fighting each other. We find governments fighting each other. And we find individuals fighting each other - in wars and businesses and even so-called sporting events that have become violent affairs as well.
As a result of these struggles, we find some people are starving. Some people are being bombed. Some people are being kidnapped and burned alive. Some people are unjustly being held prisoner. Some people are being tortured.
And if you ask each of those involved or responsible for those activities, you will find each person will defend themselves - they are doing it for their country, or their religion, or their family. Everyone has an excuse, and no one wants to compromise or reconcile with their adversaries - as Jesus is advising here. Rather, so many prefer to go on fighting - and struggling for ownership of God's property.
Everything is owned by God
Yes, all of this violence is based on people struggling for those things ultimately owned by the Supreme Being - namely, land, money, power and so on. None of these things are owned by us. They were here before we came into these bodies and they will be here after we leave these bodies behind. Since we didn't create any of these things, nor can we take them with us when we go - we do not own them nor can we ever own them. So why are we fighting over them? Why are we fighting over God's property?
Because we want to dominate others. We don't want to be in our natural position as subordinate of God - servant of God. We want to be master - we want God's position. So we struggle with others to obtain that position - whether for ourselves, our family, our institution or our country.
But as Jesus is stating clearly, this world is not our little oyster. It is not our kingdom. This physical world is a rehabilitation center, and these physical bodies are our cells.
We are here to be rehabilitated. This is why this world presents us with consequences. Just as psychologists have proven that children best learn from consequences rather than arbitrary physical discipline such as spanking - this world is set up to render consequences for each of our activities. Everything we do has a consequence - either in this lifetime or in the next.
Jesus states this clearly above:
"I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny."Jesus is speaking both metaphorically and practically here. He is speaking of the fact that the physical universe is set up with consequences - and each of us must pay for our activities either now or in the future. Someone who hurts someone else may be jailed - or they may have to pay in other ways in the future.
The last penny
The phrase, "the last penny" - uses the Greek word, λεπτόν (lepton) - which can mean "cent" or it can mean "thin, small." Jesus is stating that the consequence learning system is set up to teach us - down to very thin cent - because it is about learning.
And if we don't learn a lesson - symptomized by compromise and reconciliation - then the learning experience will be presented to us until we learn it.
Jesus also stated this clearly as he spoke to a person whose body he had healed:
“See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14)Again Jesus is speaking of consequences here. Something happening as a result of our activities: Consequences for self-interested activities - activities done for our own direct or extended interest - called "sin."
But the ingenious consequence learning system designed by the Supreme Being also rewards us for activities that help others as well as activities that harm others. If we help others, positive things will happen to us.
And what does this consequence learning system do? It points us towards the advantages of becoming a better person. And this can - if someone continues to learn - lead one to begin caring about others. In other words, the system is set up to encourage us to love one another - and come to understand the nature of love.
Yes, this is the beautiful design of the Supreme Being. He wants to teach us about love. Just as parents will teach their children to become responsible adults - the Supreme Being wants to teach us about love: About how to love.
This is the path Jesus is advising the crowd to take: To not focus ourselves on our petty differences. To "try hard to be reconciled" with our adversaries rather than struggling with them. To try to love and care for one another rather than struggle so hard for those things that ultimately belong to the Supreme Being. To instead focus our lives on our spiritual nature and our relationship with the Supreme Being. This is why Jesus' most important instruction was:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matt. 22:37-38)