Turning the Other Cheek

Matthew 5: 38-42
2 Cor 6:1-10 / Ps 98

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
(Matthew 5:39)

Revenge torments my soul and mind,
True peace and joy how can I seek?
Help me Lord in my heart to find
Your grace to turn the other cheek.

“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.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

Reflection

The principle of “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” had been a practice in much of ancient times, dating back more than 2,000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. It was meant to check the damages resulting from blood feuds between adversaries. Considered one of the oldest laws in the book, it was in fact even written in the Old Testament books of Exodus: “If injury ensues, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot…” (Ex.21:23-24); Leviticus: “Anyone who injures his neighbor shall receive the same in return, limb for limb, eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” (Lev. 24:19-20); and Deuteronomy: “Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot” (Dt.19:21). This principle was not a “law of vengeance”, but rather one of justice, because it limited the retaliation to the amount of damage that was inflicted.

Jesus, however, teaches us that our response to an inflicted injury should go beyond the level of human justice. Instead of “getting even” with our enemies, He tells us to “get them forgiven”. He wants us to avail of His healing power of mercy. No amount of vengeance can heal the wounds of injustice as effectively as genuine mercy and forgiveness. “Offering the other cheek” means willing to endure the pain of an unrequited debt for the sake of a higher purpose: to manifest God’s love. Love means never to take revenge on your enemies. At the same time, Jesus is advocating a radical form of passive resistance that disarms one’s adversary with the use of a firm, peaceful resolve to establish peace as a better alternative. This was the tactic employed by great peacemakers like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, who advanced the cause against prejudice and racism by active non-violence. “Offering the other cheek” also means taking an active role in mitigating if not eradicating the root causes of violence and injustice by acts of charity and selfless service. Some of the models who come to mind are Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who established hundreds of shelter centers for the poor and the dying all over the world, and Bob Geldof, a bandleader who was able to raise $150 million in 1985 to feed the starving people of Africa, and subsequently convinced the leaders of the G8 countries to pledge $150 Billion to end the aids epidemic and starvation. In lesser degrees of greatness, there are so many other heroes like them today all over the world who promote peace and love by contributing their talents and sacrifices without any personal benefit.

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, asks each one of us who believe in Him to offer not only our tunic but our cloak as well, to go an extra mile, to be extra generous, and never to turn away anyone who comes to us to borrow. If he could give His own life for our sake, is it too much that he is asking from us to sacrifice to reflect the goodness of His Father?

Father God, Your Son Jesus Christ has shown us by His example that there is no alternative but to forgive our enemies if we want our sins to be forgiven, and to promote His peace by helping Your little children. But it is only by Your grace that we can accomplish this, Lord, and so we pray for Your blessing. Amen.

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