September 24, 2009

Turning The Other Cheek? Sometimes, It's A Wise Choice

Can it ever be a wise choice to turn the other cheek? What does it really mean to "turn the other cheek?"

In Matthew chapter five, verses 38 through 40, Jesus says this: "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."

This is one of the most disturbing, frustrating passages in Scripture, because we instinctively know when someone mistreats us and we have a natural inclination to want to do something about it. We want to stop the wrong and heal the pain of the injury.

Here, Jesus seems to suggest another path.

I don't know if He is giving a formula for every conflict. After all, this is the man who threw the moneychangers out of the temple (John 2:13-16) and called some religious leaders of His day a "brood of vipers." (Matthew 12:34) He is the man who said "wisdom is proved right by her actions." (Matthew 11:19)

So, what does the action of "turning the other cheek" prove?

It says to the "striker": you will not determine the course of my day, my life, or the use of my time. I will not engage you in endless conflict because you wish it. I will not raise my hand in anger because you raise you hand in anger. I will not scream and shout because you scream and shout. I will not tell lies because you tell lies. I will not cause pain because you cause pain.

I think this course of action requires great strength on the part of the "strikee", the one being struck. Whether the striking is literal or physical, Jesus is telling us not to allow our lives to be dominated by revenge, getting even, or settling the score. He's talking to His followers, to those who have entrusted their actions and welfare to His care, protection, and judgment.

In a later New Testament passage (Romans 12:19 through 20), Paul writes what seems like an extension of Jesus' comments. "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the LORD. On the contrary, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."

Obviously, any thoughtful person will take reasonable precautions to keep him or herself safe. That is not what this is about. This is the question: is your life dominated by responses to people who constantly seek and create conflict with you? Are you compelled to always respond with anger to those who show you anger? Do you live by the motto that says: "If you do something to me, I'm going to do something to you?" Will you stop doing good work to chase the person who spat upon you? Will you chase them for a yard, a mile, or one hundred miles? Will someone full of anger chart the course of your life? Do you choose to give yourself away in this manner? If this is your choice, who will benefit from this choice?

Think the idea of turning the other cheek sounds weak? You might want to give it a second thought.

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