Turn the Other Cheek

Jesus encourages us to find creative, active and nonviolent ways to assert our humanity and show others God’s love. By Justin and Courtney Rose

Growing up in church, we often heard the old adage “turn the other cheek.” A fight would break out among siblings in a church pew, and well-meaning leaders would quote this line from Jesus. What they meant was: “be the bigger person” and “let it go.”

The words of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-39 (NIV) say: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” But does this mean that Jesus actually wants His followers to be slapped twice? Does He want us to be treated poorly? Should the Christ-follower become the world’s punching bag? Should we allow and even encourage wrongdoing to continue to occur in the world?

Of course, Jesus wants us to let go of petty arguments and to forgive everyone. Of course, we are told to live as the light of God in the world. But there are other passages that talk about those issues—not this one. How can it be right to “turn the other cheek” and allow injustice to continue?

This passage has often been interpreted to be about humility and letting things go. But the danger of this interpretation is that we become victims, quietly unwilling to resist the “evil person.” However, this is not what Jesus is talking about in this passage. Jesus is, of course, the humble King, but this passage is not about humility. Rather, it is about standing up to the evildoer and pursuing equality.

“[Jesus] encourages His followers to find creative, active and nonviolent ways to assert their humanity and show God’s love in the world.”

Dr. Walter Wink, author of “The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium” suggests that instead of the phrase “do not resist an evil person,” a better translation is “do not retaliate against violence with violence” or “don’t react violently against the one who is evil.” Essentially, don’t use the tactics of the evildoer to fight against evil.

Clearly, Jesus is teaching His disciples not to retaliate, but to refrain from revenge. However, many assume there are only two responses to being slapped: violence or passive inaction. Jesus takes it a step further and suggests a third way to address violence and injustice in the world. This “third way,” seen through the teachings and lives of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, is nonviolent resistance.

In Jesus’ culture, the left hand was reserved for unclean tasks. A powerful person would not hit someone with their left hand because it would suggest that what they are doing is unclean. So, they would slap someone with the back of their right hand which is why Jesus says, “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek.” To slap someone in this way was an insult, suggesting you had power over them. To strike your equal in such a way would be unacceptable, resulting in a huge fine. To slap someone with the open hand, would be to treat them like an equal. With this new understanding of Jesus’ context, we see the real purpose of Jesus’ words.

Jesus is not instructing His followers to flee from hardship or to blindly accept hardship. Instead, He instructs His followers to stand up to injustice by showing their humanity. The one who is slapped is not less than the one who slaps. Rather than backing away from injustice or using the violent actions of the wrongdoers, Jesus provides a third way to stand up against injustice. He encourages his followers to find creative, active and nonviolent ways to assert their humanity and show God’s love in the world.

Daily Readings:

  • December 1:  Matthew 5:38-42
  • December 2:  Luke 6:27-31
  • December 3:  Lamentations 3:22-33
  • December 4:  1 Peter 2:21-25
  • December 5:  Romans 12:17-21
  • December 7:  Deuteronomy 15:7-8
  • December 8:  1 Corinthians 6:1-11
  • December 9:  Exodus 22:25-27
  • December 10:  Leviticus 19:18
  • December 11:  Proverbs 20:22
  • December 12:  Deuteronomy 24:10-13
  • December 13:  1 Peter 3:8-9
  • December 14:  Matthew 5:43-48
  • December 15:  Proverbs 24:29
  • December 16:  Exodus 21:22-25
  • December 17:  Leviticus 24:17-22
  • December 18:  Proverbs 25:21-22
  • December 19:  John 18: 19-23
  • December 20:  Psalm 33:16-19
  • December 21:  2 Chronicles 18:1-27
  • December 22:  Deuteronomy 19:16-21
  • December 23:  Matthew 26:65-68
  • December 24:  Micah 4:1-5
  • December 25:  Matthew 5:3-12
  • December 26:  Matthew 16:24-26
  • December 27:  Ephesians 2:14-18
  • December 28:  John 19:1-3
  • December 29:  Luke 3:20-14
  • December 30:  Ephesians 6:10-12
  • December 31:  John 13:12-17

You May Also Like