Whosoever shall slap you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:39Jesus’ lesson regarding the turning of the other cheek is typically misconstrued as a call to passivity in the face of evil. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like all kings of Israelite history, Jesus was a warrior. The point is that he recommends a very unique way of doing battle – one that really conquers evil rather than perpetrating it. In the face of oppression or injustice, two responses classically present themselves: fight or flight. We oppose evil on its own terms and using its own weapons, or we run away. The former method tends to awaken an answering violence: an eye for an eye, making the whole world blind, as Mahatma Gandhi said. The latter method simply confirms the wicked person in his wickedness.
Jesus proposes a third and far more creative way. "If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn and give him the other." Since one would never have used the left hand for any sort of social interaction, the striking on the right cheek would have been done with the back of the right hand. But this was precisely the way that a master would treat a slave, or how someone would express contempt for a social inferior. To turn the other cheek, therefore, is to stand one’s ground in the face of violence and offer a challenge: you will not treat me in this aggressive way. In so doing, the recipient of the slap effectively mirrors the injustice back to the perpetrator. He thereby challenges his aggressor to see and to repent.
With this in mind, take a good long look at the work of Gandhi in India, Martin Luther King in America, and John Paul II in Poland. You will see what Jesus recommends is neither passivity nor an airy ideal, but rather a method that really works.
Light Unto my Path