“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil. (Matthew 5:38-42)
We find this passage in both Matthew and Luke; it comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus challenged the people by saying, “You have heard it was said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you do not resist one who is evil.” He goes on to give us three examples to illustrate and explain exactly what he means by this. Let’s take a look.
First, Jesus said, “If somebody strikes you on the right cheek, turn to them the left cheek also.” Bible scholars believe this is a metaphor for being insulted. How should you respond when someone insults you? Jesus says, surprise them and turn the other cheek. He is telling us that we need to find a creative way to break the cycle of anger and hate. When Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, however, he’s not asking us to be passive or to be a victim, rather he is asking us to find a better way to break the cycle of anger and hate. Each of the examples he gives require action on our part. Jesus says, if someone strikes you on the cheek, don’t just take it but turn the other cheek. He is telling us not to take revenge, but He also tells us not to be passive, but to be creative and find a way to break the cycle of anger and hate. That’s what it means to “turn the other cheek.” I want to be clear that when Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, he is not asking you to be a victim, to continue to “take it” or stay in an abusive situation. Sometimes, leaving the situation or making a change is the action Jesus wants us to take. This passage is really misused by people in power, so I want to make sure everyone understands what Jesus is calling us to do. Think about your workplace, how do you respond when someone tries to take advantage of you and shuffle all their work on you while they loaf? Or something goes bad and someone tries to blame you rather than taking the blame? It can feel like the only options are to be passive or take revenge, but Jesus tells us there is a third option that doesn’t include either! He calls us to be creative, to find a way to break the cycle of anger and hate.
The second example Jesus gave also requires action on our part and tells you how to react when someone is trying to steal from you, if they are greedy or self-centered or if they are trying to twist the law to their advantage. Jesus tells us, “if you have to go to court and someone takes your coat, give them your cloak as well. It’s interesting to note that in Jesus’ day, you wore a coat on the outside and your undergarment was called your cloak. If someone took your coat and you gave them your cloak as well, you would be left standing naked in the courtroom! Scholars say this is one of those times when Jesus did not intend for us to take this example, literally. Jews were very modest and this example would have shocked them and helped them to understand the message when Jesus said, go ahead and give up your cloak as well, when somebody tries to steal from you.
His third example is about what to do when someone in power tries to take advantage of you. During that time, the Roman law said you must carry a soldier’s pack for one mile. Jesus explains, if a man is going down the road and a soldier comes along and asks him to pick up his pack, the Roman law says you must carry it for one mile, but you should carry it for two. When this happened, it felt like such an insult to have the solider get away with treating you so terribly because it was the law. It was a relief to know that after you had carried the pack for one mile you could, legally, put it down and walk away, but Jesus surprised everyone when he said, “Carry it two more miles.” It reminds me of the phrase, “Kill ‘em with kindness!”
Jesus asks us to give up revenge, altogether. He asks us to not focus on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but instead calls us to respond in a different way, one that requires thought and creativity. As followers of Christ, we are called to do things a little bit differently than the rest of the world. Turning the other cheek is just one way we can give the world a glimpse of God’s grace.