Turning the Other Cheek
The subject of retaliation and turning the other cheek is one that cuts to the core of all of our hearts. From infants to the oldest among us, throughout history, it is plain to see that our most basic instinct is to strike back after being struck. In our fallen and imperfect state, revenge is, unfortunately, one of the things to which we run most quickly when harmed. Whether it be actual physical harm, verbal abuse, or something as small as having the last word in a petty argument, human beings love to retaliate and cause others to feel the pain that was inflicted upon them. Non-retaliation is undoubtedly a complicated subject matter that has been abused in the past. It is a subject that brings up the subject of war, criminal justice, bullying, and ongoing abuse, amongst others. For the sake of brevity, I only desire to give a basic overview of Christ’s words in Matthew 5:38-42.
One of the most beautiful aspects of our faith and lives in Christ is that we are not without an example of what our faith looks like as it is practically walked out in daily lives. We do not serve a God who commands us to do things that he does not do. In Christ, we see the perfect example of what it means to “turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile”. Jesus is our forerunner and perfect example of what it means to live a life devoted to God and he gives us tragically beautiful examples of it in the gospels. In the smaller examples, Jesus responds to his accusers throughout his ministry with humility and truth, never stooping down to their level of drivel. The passion narrative gives us the clearest example of this principle, however. The last week of Jesus’ life shows us just how serious God is about the commandment to turn the other cheek.
Jesus is seen dealing perfectly with his slanderers throughout his ministry, but could he keep that up when his life was on the line? Could he continue turning the other cheek when it meant being tortured to death? Many of us may find it difficult to turn the other cheek when the matter at hand is something as small as a coworker, spouse, friend, sibling, parent, or child say something to us in a way that bothers us, but Jesus was able to remain loving until the end. How hard is it for you to remain loving and non-retaliatory when someone mocks you, especially in front of others? Imagine the love Jesus must have had to ask for his Father to have mercy on those who mocked him as he was suffering and dying on the cross? From the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane until his last breath, Jesus forgave and loved, not seeking to harm those who harmed him. Centuries before any of this even happened, Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be oppressed and afflicted yet remain silent, that he would be led to his death as lambs go to their slaughter yet not say a word (Isaiah 53:7). Who is this God that we serve?
In his first letter, Peter tells us that Jesus did this as an example for us to follow. Just as Jesus was reviled without reviling in return and suffered without threatening back, but rather entrusted himself to his father who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21-23), so we too are to respond when treated unjustly. When we are struck on one cheek, rather than striking back, we are to entrust ourselves to the one who judges justly on our behalf. In this same thought, Paul tells us in Romans to “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'" (Romans 12:19) But how should we live while waiting on this justice from the Lord? Rather than taking revenge into our own hands, Paul, in just the next verse in Romans 12, tells us to feed our enemy if they are hungry and give them something to drink if they are thirsty. In this way, we are not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. May we set our hearts to live this way, entrusting ourselves to the one who judges justly on our behalf, the one who is faithful to act on behalf of the needy and hurting