Turning the other cheek
“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. Matthew 5:38-39 (NLT)
Often we associate the above words of Jesus with a physical attack, but I am confident Jesus’ words also meant verbal assaults against us. But doesn’t His advice contradict what we see in our culture? Don’t we see people striking back when they have been attached either physically or verbally? The art of effective put-downs seems to flourish in our society and it seems many people are poised to retaliate when these verbal attacks occur. Further, it seems some people appear to be looking for an excuse to express hostile reactions even when a slight was not intended.
Our Lord was definitely encouraging us not to retaliate. But a closer look at His command will reveal that He is focusing on our response when slapped on the right cheek. Try to visualize the mechanics of slapping someone on the right cheek. Take in account that most people are right-handed; consequently, the only type of blow that a right-handed person could possibly deliver is one using the back of the hand! Therefore, what Jesus was likely emphasizing was not the slap but rather the insult implied in such a blow. According to rabbinic law, to hit someone with the back of your hand was twice as insulting as hitting with the flat of your hand. In those times striking with the back of the hand was a sign of calculated contempt -- withering disdain. Basically, your attacker was conveying was that you were an insignificant being -- a nothing! Would you be tempted to turn the other cheek? If you did so and got struck again, it was a sign that that you were his equal and the original insult would be eradicated! So turning the other cheek was a way of expressing equality and the lack of response demonstrated that the lack of a reaction was not one of fear but rather of restraint. When we act in response with compassion and calm to those who abuse us, we tend to defuse their wrath. However, when we react in hate and anger, we fuel the fire and escalate the hard feelings.
We need to stop for a minute and ask ourselves, “What will I gain by retaliating with hasty and angry response to his aggressive act?” We must decide at that moment what really matters to us: Do we want to be seen as responding in a hostile aggressive manner or showing the strength to behave in a Christ-like manner? In conclusion, turning the other cheek is a response of strength that says, “I will not seek revenge because I am stronger than that”. Further, it says I will not respond in shame as my dignity comes from being a child of God and my self-esteem is not contingent on striking back and trying to harm you. My dignity rests in Christ and I will respond in the way He would respond. Our Lord’s message is and always has been one of love not hate and that was what He was trying to covey when He told us to turn the other cheek.