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Turn the Other Cheek MEANS Resist Them Non-Violently

Turn the Other Cheek Means Resist Them, NonViolentlyI. THE PROBLEM: Jesus says to turn the other cheek.

[See a summary of this post.]

Is it ever appropriate for Christians to resist authority? Many of us feel there is much in the behavior of our national leaders that cries out for criticism and resistance. Are Christians permitted to do that? Does “turn the other cheek” mean we should be doormats?

“Doormat” was not Jesus’ style, nor the style of his followers in New Testament times. He and they were compassionate, and they were non-violent, but they were not doormat quality. In fact, “turn the other cheek,” thoughtfully understood, actually encourages subversive, even dangerously subversive behavior.

Matthew 5:38-42

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 someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

II. FOUR KEY POINTS:

I have four arguments.

Summary:

  • First, when Jesus uttered those words his topic was the avoidance of violence; so we should expect the instruction that follows to deal with ways to avoid violence, which is a different focus than instruction about submission.
  • Second, Jesus and his disciples did not behave in subservient or unjustly cooperative ways toward secular or religious authorities.
  • Third, the phrase “do not resist” is a poor English choice for the Greek wording Matthew used.
  • Fourth, the physical event of being struck on the right cheek presents an interesting problem.

More explanation:

First,
the subject at hand was violent retaliation.

It is not possible to imagine the real Jesus of history coaching other people in door-mat-ness. That was just not his way of thinking or operating.
“It was said, an eye for an eye.” That’s violence for violence. But Jesus would apparently have agreed with Gandhi, “An eye for an eye, and we all go blind.” So he says, “BUT I say unto you”, and then encourages a non-violent response. What we do not often notice, however, is that the non-violent response he suggests is not a passive response, and could in fact lead to more abuse.

Second,
Jesus himself was not submissive to the unjust or irrational use of authority.

Jesus and NonViolent Resistance - Walter WinkHe set a very different example. He often publicly pointed out injustice or hypocrisy, and frequently irritated or even enraged “the powers that be.” It is not possible to imagine the real Jesus of history coaching other people in door-mat-ness. That was just not his way of thinking or operating.

Third,
the phrase “do not resist” sends a message very different

from what the underlying Greek conveys. I dislike fussing about Greek words and translation problems, since the translations we have are extremely reliable. But there are a few places, and this is one, where we understand better if we translate better. This really should be rendered more like “do not retaliate violently,” or “do not get violent against”.

Jesus was a resistant kind of person. He did not practice nor counsel non-resistance. He did, however, counsel non-violence.

“It was said, an eye for an eye.” That’s violence for violence. But Jesus would apparently have agreed with Gandhi, “An eye for an eye, and we all go blind.” So he says, “BUT I say unto you”, and then encourages a non-violent response.Click To Tweet

Fourth,
– turn the other cheek.

Imagine being struck on your right cheek. You probably get hit by the striker’s right hand, which means you get backhanded. Backhanding does not happen in a fair face-off. Backhanding is an insult, punishment, or just plain abuse. Back then it represented a clear situation of oppression or dominance. So you could 1) fight back (not smart), or 2) meekly take it, maybe with “Yes, Sir”.

An alternative “third way”:

Now Jesus suggests a third approach. Offer the other cheek. You are not fighting back, but neither are you meekly taking it. You are asking for more. You may get it or you may not, but either way you’ve made a point or two. You are not exactly what they think you are, and you know it; you are a person, and deserve more equal treatment and respect as a person; you are aware of the truth behind the fraud. You are amplifying awareness of, and insulting, their bullying behavior and the system that allows it.

III. CONCLUSION:

SO if my take is accurate:

1. Jesus insists on integrity and justice.

And the pursuit of those values often precipitates conflict with powers and customs, and often requires deliberate resistance.

2. But Jesus also insists on non-violence.

The point is, we can often (always?) be both a) non-violent and b) resistant, cheeky, or openly subversive. We can be non-violent and still act and speak in ways that resist and undermine falsehood and unjust power. And that, I believe, is a good part of what Jesus is after in this short teaching. Christians clearly have a role to play in exposing and resisting evil.

__________

See Jesus and Nonviolence, by Walter Wink.

Walter Wink treats most of these issues in this excellent little book Fortress Press, 2003. It’s a very easy read, but a substantial survey of the issues both historically and theologically – quite an achievement in such a small space! I highly recommend it.

___________
From Jan, 2005. Edited, 2016.


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49 Comments

  • Great post. The point may have been lost, at least from my perspective, in the ensuing discussion.

    Too many I believe have taken this passage as an excuse not to do anything. Often they will not confront what is in front of them because they are a Christian (sic). Really an excuse.

    Case in point. I live across the street from the high school I attended 40 years ago, when I also lived across the street on the same block.

    Back in the day, acting out consisted of sneaking cigarettes and holding hands while walking down the hall.

    True delinquency was minimal and was treated as a serious issue. When people would complain every one would respond with “they are just kids” (turning the other cheek) and just let it go.

    At the time suspension was serious and expulsion was unheard of. A trip to the vice-principle was serious business.

    Today the school has a nursery for students’ children, some mothers are 14 and are on their second child. Fathers get to school on skateboards.

    There are clinics in the schools and frequently students leave school to deal drugs, use drugs or fight. On the way home hoards form, fights ensue and one gang member or another is knifed and needs to be hospitalized.

    Most people respond with different language, but it is the same “they are just kids” (turning the other cheek). Now instead of vice-principles we have school resource officers (police) stationed at schools and, as well, perhaps a full complement of security guards.

    Turning the other cheek can be appropriate but I think the more we turn the other cheek the further we can move away from what the true meaning and purpose of Christianity is. Being a Christian is not passive it is active. But that requires effort and ongoing belief in Jesus and the Father. We need to actively pursue a relationship with Christ and work on it everyday until the time of our physical dealths.

    If that is not practiced, belief as well as faith will fall to the wayside. We end up worshiping what is easy, often the culture imposed upon us by the media. God falls further and further from our minds and memories as we are indoctrinated to an ever increasing narcissistic culture (the realm of the enemy).

    Freedom is found in pursuing an active relationship with Jesus in order to develop one with God. There is a price to freedom, as Thomas Jefferson said, and that price is constant vigilance.

    So the next time you think you need to turn the other cheek think about it. It might be time to stand up take a stand and make a commitment. Practicing Christianity is not all about a feel good reward for behaving in the right manner, sometimes it can be outright painful.

    In my case I grew tired of the deteriorating school issues. I ran for and was elected to the school board. I am guided primarily in the decisions I make by my relationship with God. I have been challenged in ways I never could have imagined. I think God for it.

  • It’s well known that at this time in history, both the Roman and Arabic world were very caste-based societies, where members of the upper classes could do pretty much whatever they wanted to members of the lower classes, largely with impunity. It’s also interesting to note that this caste system was reinforced by teaching civic responsibility and etiquette to children in school. In fact, there was a widely used and well-known teaching manual for this. One of the examples in this manual is of an upper-casteman and a lower-casteman meeting in a busy public roadway. According to the manual, the lower-casteman is required to get out of the upper-casteman’s way, even if it means falling into the gutter and becoming covered with filth and sewage. If the lower-casteman fails to yield the right-of-way, or doesn’t do so quickly enough, it is both the right and the duty of the upper-casteman to strike the lower-casteman and throw him aside, if need be, as an example to all onlookers of the consequences for failure to fulfill caste responsibility. This manual is full of similar lessons.

    Many, if not most, of Jesus’s followers – both devoted and casual – were likely taught civics and proper social behavior from this manual, or one very similar to it. When Jesus specifically mentions one man striking another, using the particular phrasing that he does, we can be confident that many, if not most, of the people hearing this teaching were recalling their childhood lessons. This adds another level of meaning to it. Given that many of Jesus’s followers were lower-castemen, Jesus’s criticism of this socially-allowed-and-required behavior was probably very popular.

  • jesus told us that the world would hate us!!! so, we are to expect conflict…. paul went on to become a further example of a persecuted christian,when he was attaked and beaten he didnt call on angels from heaven to step in and rescue him ,he didnt have chance to turn the other cheek the mob was so violent he was near to death.but what he did do in one incident was to call upon his roman citizanship… it was unlawfull, him being a roman citizan,even though he was a jew ,for him to be treated in such a way…so our help as a christian can come from the law of the land, we can be non violent… and let the law thats been put there by gods grace so that we may have a good life,be put into action,god is a just god and the law of the land is to bring about justice.. and punish the oppressor.paul called upon his rights , he himself turned the other cheek didnt retaliate,but let the benefit of the roman law protect him.it wasnt spiritualised in any way,his help came from the law of the land.

  • I think this is a talk of forgiving those who offend you in any way. The whole point of Jesus was to show us love and forgiveness. Jesus wanted us to allways be at peace. Getting smacked across the face is no different than lets say………..getting hung on the cross. Jesus still cried out forgiveness on the cross. He wants us to allways be at peace. Forgiveness provides that peace.

  • Sheila is exactly right. God is love. That’s all we really gotta know. Sometimes it seems as if we are always looking for new perspectives on something, a new way to view something Jesus said. Too often sermons are wasted by concentrating on an opinion that isn’t very important. We get too caught up in this stuff, that we miss the basic truth. God loves us more than anything else, and He wants us to love Him in return. This is the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself”(Matthew 22:37-38) That right there is the essence of life. Believe me.
    I recommend this book I read, it’s called “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan. His website is “crazylovebook.com” and it puts everything into perspective perfectly.

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