This is my sermon from today (7/31/2016) at Divine Science Church in Pueblo, CO. I have added links to my sources. Thank you.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is the Sermon on the Mount. Most of the sermon that Jesus purportedly has said seems to be clear and concise. There is one section that is somewhat of a stumper for many and many people have conflicting thoughts about the meaning. One of the sayings from Jesus is “Turn the other cheek.” It is probably one of the more controversial sayings and a hard one to fathom even in this day and age where we have been working for peace and compassion.
First, let us go through a part of the actual sermon so we can get some context.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” – New American Bible Translation.
The common interpretation has been about others doing harm to you and to not react in the same way by harming them back. To me, this is about dealing with the idea of not having revenge as a way of reacting to someone or something. Revenge has this way of being cyclical. I call this the cycle of destruction. In revenge, some seek revenge anytime someone wrongs them and so they wrong the other. The other person being wronged will react the same way and the cycle will continue. Although it seems like a good idea to not react but to act in a different way, the Bible passage does not say to defend either. Many people take this passage as a sign of being passive to the point that people would step on you like a doormat. The passage within itself does seem to be interpreted as such which includes the handing of the cloak as well as the tunic when being sued.
Many have speculated why Jesus would actually promote being this passive and what about some level of self-defense for the turning of the other cheek? Is this not just about physical abuse but can this also be about being insulted? We will be looking at several different interpretations and thoughts on “turning the other cheek.”
First, there are a few more scriptures that do state something of turning the other cheek:
Lamentations 3:30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him and let him be filled with disgrace.
Job 16:10 Men open their mouths to jeer at me, they strike my cheek in scorn.
Isaiah 50:6 I offered my cheeks, I did not hide from mocking and spitting.
(Biblical references found at: http://www.truthortradition.com/articles/misapplied-texts-luke-629)
For some Christians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, it was a redefining what one should do with vendettas. A 19th century commentary by Adam Clarke states, “It seems that the Jews had made this law [eye for eye, tooth for tooth] a ground for authorising private resentments, and all the excesses committed by a vindictive spirit. Revenge was often carried to the utmost extremity, and more evil returned than what had been received.”
This is a possibility that Jews might be taking the “Eye for an Eye and tooth for a tooth” to the point of thinking that it is the law from God to be able to take revenge. Jesus seems to want to refute that the need is not for vendetta, but to move on away from whatever abuse one is going through. (from http://www.scriptureincontext.com/turn-the-other-cheek-is-really-an-eye-for-eye-in-the-bible-see-what-i-mean/)
Although, personally, with the three scriptures mentioned, I wonder if some were using the “eye for an eye” while others were allowing themselves to be abused and victimized, but that is just my observation at this point.
For some Christians, the idea of self-defense was about retreating and to not be provoked for revenge if possible. This would also go by legal rights such as the tunic and cloak.
For Jews, it seems they do take this as a form of refusing revenge or a grudge but they do believe in self-defense and finding ways to forgive. With their complexity and completeness of the laws, it may bring what is considered accepted or forbidden by the laws that have been created. These laws can include forgiveness, self-defense, types of revenge (including grudges), and the Heat of the moment.
The laws may define how one acts to another based on certain levels of physical, emotional, financial, and psychological abuse. Here are a couple of examples of a modern Jewish viewpoint of revenge and grudges:
“Saying that you refuse to lend him your lawnmower because he refused to lend his to you is a forbidden form of revenge.
Saying that you agree to lend him your lawnmower, unlike him who refused to lend you his, is a forbidden form of grudge-bearing.”
This Jewish viewpoint is from Torahmusing.com by Gil Student. (http://www.torahmusings.com/2014/11/turning-the-other-cheek-in-jewish-law/)
There are some scholars that have looked at the Jewish culture of that time period and having taken their own interpretation of the meaning of turning the other cheek. They have interpreted that turning the other cheek is about a slap in the face, on the cheek, and that one can only slap on one side as a form of insult to an inferior. If the slap is done on the other side, it would be considered unlawful. As Marcus Borg points out based on scholar Walter Wink in his books “Engaging the Powers” and “The Powers That Be,” Winks writes:
“But in that world, people did not use the left hand to strike people. It was reserved for “unseemly” uses. Thus, being struck on the right cheek meant that one had been backhanded with the right hand. Given the social customs of the day, a backhand blow was the way a superior hit an inferior, whereas one fought social equals with fists.
This means the saying presupposes a setting in which a superior is beating a peasant. What should the peasant do? “Turn the other cheek.” What would be the effect? The only way the superior could continue the beating would be with an overhand blow with the fist–which would have meant treating the peasant as an equal.” (http://dharmagates.org/other_cheek.html)
In this particular interpretation, it would be about social class and a way to be seen as an equal rather than an inferior even though that will not stop any other physical confrontations.
In our more spiritual and possibly mystical leanings, there is an interesting explanation of turning the other cheek: “In the book “Your Forgotten Self” by David Robert Ord explains:
“When Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies,’ he was showing us that bringing quarreling individuals together requires unilateral action. If there is to be resolution of the quarrel, someone must break the ice.” And later also states, “By not reacting, not pulling away, you invite the person to reconnect with you.” (http://www.namastepublishing.com/blog/compassionate-eye/real-meaning-turn-other-cheek)
He states: “In tense and angry situations, when Jesus was being judged, baited, or hit look at how he responds: He tells a story, asks a question, calmly explains, heals people, wiggles out of traps, walks away, prays, or silently accepts the mistreatment. In all cases he holds his ground, de-escalates the conflict, and speaks the truth in love.
Jesus’ way of dealing with aggression [is] revolutionary! It’s so wise, so beautiful, so strong, and so different from what is normally done. If someone hits you on the cheek and you strike him back then they know what to do next: hit you harder! But if, in strength and love, you turn your other cheek then he doesn’t know what to do! He’s never seen that response. It confuses him. It may frighten him. It may convict him. You’ve turned the tables on your offender. “
Bill Gaultiere also wrote about this phrase is also about insults: “If someone curses you and you curse him back then he knows exactly what to do. But if you bless him then he doesn’t know what to do! Jesus is teaching us a kind of spiritual martial arts for those who put their faith in him and live within the reality of the invisible Kingdom of the Heavens in their midst.” (http://www.soulshepherding.org/2005/08/jesus-jujitsu-the-power-to-turn-the-other-cheek/)
This I find an interesting viewpoint about how we can change our reality by doing what is not expected and with love and compassion. It can startle some who are used to getting back what they give. For some, this may actually have worth and may work well. For others, maybe not so much.
I had a hard time looking for the interpretations for New Thought, but I did find one that did have an interpretation. William Walker Atkinson in the Mental Power Development and Efficiency, The power of concentration, thought force – Raja Yoga Self-Healing by thought force which states:
“But do not allow Hate to find a lodging place in your heart. Go through the world “with the grace of God in your heart, and a good, strong hickory club in your hand.” Don’t use the club for offense (never do that), but keep it around to defend yourself with. If you are “clad in the armor of a righteous cause,” and the world sees that you have self-respect and will stand no nonsense, it will treat you with respect.”
And later he writes: “Hate is not to be combatted… by Hate— this only adds fuel to the fire. The proper way is to form the mental image of Like and Attraction, in your mind, and then concentrate its effects upon the other person. Just as you may change you own emotional states, so may you change his, under the proper conditions and by the proper methods.” (Atkinson, William Walker. The Complete Works of William Walker Atkinson (Unabridged): The Key To Mental Power Development & Efficiency, The Power of Concentration, Thought-Force … Raja Yoga, Self-Healing by Thought Force… (… (Kindle Locations 71056-71065) and (Kindle Locations 114649-114656). e-artnow. Kindle Edition.)
Atkinson writes about having righteousness in defending oneself but to not fight with hate. He explicitly adds the need for self-defense and to not be so passive that one will use you as a doormat.
So, what does this all mean? We can take the more scholarly way of thinking of it was a way to get slapped as an equal in Jewish culture. We can look at it in the Jewish insights that there are a variety of other laws that govern the idea of revenge and grudges.
Yet, I think we need to see it in our light for the here and now. The turn the other cheek may have been motivated on social aspects of that time and place, but we will have to take this more as where we are at in our spiritual upbringing. It is about taking action over reaction. Turning the other cheek allows us to not be taken in by emotions. This does not mean we shouldn’t stop them, but provide them with a different perspective and a different route. We can use a manner of self-defense, that does not hurt them but brings them down to the point we can get away or get help. The idea of Judo is to use the force of your opponent against them. This is a very fluid motion and not meant to harm but meant to disarm and put down in order to protect oneself and leave the situation. We can be an activist not by going against something but promoting what you are aiming for without having to put down what we are against. We can be insulted and not insult back or even be sarcastic back. We can have a certain amount of humility. Aggression usually brings in more aggression and makes us react in such a way where we might get hurt or we hurt the other.
It is time look at our reactions as we meditate or contemplate on our day, week, or life. How we deal with a variety of people and ideas and topics. How can we bring in a new perspective that will break the pattern of the cycle of destruction that we are so used to? This is something for all of us and sometimes humility can break the cycle as we look at ourselves and our own responses to others.
Thank you for having me here today once again.