Turning the Other Cheek

17 06 2013

In Matthew 5:39 Jesus seems to prescribe a course of action that does not come naturally to any of us.  He tells us to, “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”.  This is probably one of the most misunderstood, difficult, and controversial principles in the Bible.  On one hand, some use it to teach against self defense; on the other hand some preach, “we may have to turn the other cheek, but Jesus doesn’t tell us what to do after that”.  Study and reason need to replace preconceived opinions and hype.

WHAT DOES IT NOT MEAN?

1. You need to become a human punching bag
It does not mean you need to “take” whatever someone dishes out in silence and submission.
2. You need to surrender your personal rights
It does not mean that a devoted follower of Jesus needs to hang their basic human rights outside the door.
3. You need to choose peace over justice.
It does not mean that we advocate peace at any price.  Jesus is not advocating pacifism.
Let me give 2 Scriptures that back up these disclaimers:
John 18:21-23 – If turning the other cheek is Christ-like, why didn’t Christ turn the other cheek?  He not only objects to being a human punching bag, he verbally challenges the one who did it!
Acts 23:1-5 – The great Apostle Paul did not turn the other cheek.  When slapped on the cheek, he took a stand for his personal rights and demanded proper treatment.  Paul chose justice over peace.

SO WHAT DOES IT SUGGEST?
To find this out we must lay down our opinions and look at the context.  First of all, Jesus specifically names the right cheek.  If a person is right handed, he would be slapping the left cheek.  The only way to strike the right cheek is to backhand the person.
1. You are backhanded, by another
Thought out history, this action was used to symbolize a challenge or a duel.  This “slap in the face” can come literally or as an insult, criticism, rumor, or threat.
2. You are the cause of the ordeal
In context the backhanded slap is in reference to the “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” principle in the preceding verse.  The principle presumes the guilt of the person who wronged another.  When a person who hurt another and caused injury, the one guilty is to be punished with the same injury (there was never just one person in the dentist office).  It is the principle of equal justice, equating punishment with the severity of the crime.  Taken in context, the “turn the other cheek” rule is directed at the one who wronged another.
3. You are getting what you deserve
Jesus is saying that you should not only take what you deserve when they challenge you with the wrong that you committed against them, you should even offer the other cheek going over and above the call of duty.  The next verse is this discourse (Matthew 5:40) concerns a lawsuit against you that was lost.  Your guilt is presumed and proven, yet you go over and above the sentence.  In verse 41 you go the extra mile over and beyond the call of duty as a citizen.  So, in context, the one who was slapped on the right cheek deserved it.
Jesus did not turn the other cheek because He wronged no one to deserve the punishment.  Likewise, Paul even declares his innocence and the violation of the law in which the High Priest was guilty.  He did not turn the other cheek because he did not one any wrong!

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