Turn The Other Cheek?
"You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
Throughout the world the phrase “Turn the other cheek” is tossed out as a common response when we have been wronged by another person. At Mass Sunday, our pastor enlighten our parish about this passage in the proper historical context.
Given the coarseness of society today, it is time to take a deeper look at the meaning of this passage in its historical and bold context.
Imagine a servant 2000 years ago standing up boldly, unwavering as his master slapped him across the face. This stone faced resistance would have been seen as a bold act of peaceful defiance and would have emboldened his fellow servants to peacefully resist mistreatment. In His infinite wisdom, Christ chose the word “strike” not punch, beat up, bully or any other more aggressive synonyms. He does not expect us to become passive or submissive at signs of abuse.
At the time of Christ it was unheard of to demand a person’s tunic. The tunic was an undergarment a person would sleep in, wore for days on end and was most likely somewhat soiled. A “cloak” in the time of Christ was an essential outer garment. A cloak offered shelter to a person in ways we can not understand today. The cloak was worn for warmth, protection against the sun and harsh elements. It was as valuable as a person's home. Imagine the Jewish crowd chuckling out loud at thought of someone standing holding a dirty, soiled tunic and a person's cloak that had been given to them willingly. A case of peaceful, bold defiance.
Christ’s audience also knew a Roman centurion could legally force anyone to carry his bags for one mile. Any distance beyond a mile would have caused the centurion to be in violation of Roman law and likely get him in significant trouble. By this point in Christ’s exhortation the crowd was probably laughing out loud at the thought of the Roman centurion running alongside the person he had forced into service begging for his bags back so that he would not get in trouble. Peaceful, bold defiance.
How can we apply this today?
We have all been confronted by people who are combative and perhaps even acting evil. Christ does not call us to roll over and let people harm us. Christ, in the Gospel, calls us to a bold, peaceful response that will make a statement on the side of good.
God is good.
JMJ, pray for us,