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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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48 Comments

  • Here’s Gandhi on nonviolence: ‘The principle of ahimsa is hurt by every evil thought, by undue haste, by lying, by hatred, by wishing ill to anybody. It is also violated by our holding on to what the world needs.’ – ‘If one does not practice nonviolence in one’s personal relationships with others one is vastly mistaken.’

  • We are compelled not to use force not just violence but force. This means No Christian should ever ask or demand changes in the law to force people not to have abortions, or to stop gay people marrying. The law is the sword of the state or Caesar and we are asked to return it back to Caesar and not use it, we are also told to give unto God that which is his, that is judgement and retribution. we are forbidden from judging and from throwing stones because we ourselves are not free from evil and incapable of full knowledge of God or his will.

  • I have always understood “turn the other cheek” as to not feel you need to get back at one who has hurt you by word, particularly, since today the average person does not engage in wars. Shouldn’t we raise ourselves to the higher level of seeing the anger and pain, insecurity and lack of self-love that is behind the actions of one striking at us? If we are practicing Christians, aren’t we to forgive without conditions? There are no conditions given in the Bible telling us when we aren’t to forgive, such as, “How can I forgive you if you won’t say you’re sorry.” Are we not holding that same hate in our hearts by our pride, which is preventing us from forgiving the offender. It doesn’t mean we can’t walk away, even sever ties if that person is consistently aggressive, so as to avoid further confrontation, but it is ourselves we are hurting if we won’t ask God for the forgiveness we need to forgive that person.

    • Jesus WAS violent, sometimes even against people who hadn’t even hurt him or his feelings, like the pig herders whose food source he decimated with demons. And yet he said, that if Satan’s kingdom was divided against itself, it could not stand? News Flash peoples; Christianity is thoroughly divided and infighting has occurred even within single denominations; so what good is this thing i found on Google+ saying “it is better to be divided by truth than united in sin”? In addition to insulting innocent non-Jews, which could also be seen as violent, and he even tried to abolish laws he claimed he was fulfilling. He is a hypocrite and a liar and i will not discount the poßibility of him being a ruthleß hater.

  • Thanks for adding some clarification to this topic. The Branch President at my Church was also helpful. I just wanted some more examples. Thanks again. May God bless you.

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