I have been a fan of Jesus’ teaching on “turning the other cheek” for a long time now. It’s not easy to do, but I base my enthusiasm for this passage on my own experience. I can’t say definitively that I was thinking of Jesus’ words when I decided to figuratively turn my face so someone could ‘slap’ me again, but I knew in my heart that it was the proper way to respond. And the fruits of that gesture were rich, flavorful, and long lasting!
When we do not respond in kind to a rude gesture, an unkind comment, or harmful words aimed toward us, we have already won. It may not look like it to an outsider, to a non-believer, but for those of us who remain on the moral high ground, it is a sweet victory.
Jesus was, of course, foreshadowing His own Passion with this discourse on responding to the cruelty of others. So we should not even think, “How could anyone do that?” He showed us how in vivid, bold color. In our modern western world, there is less of the actual physical violence toward those who are most vulnerable, but there is indignity perpetrated toward them nonetheless. And, even in higher socio-economic spheres there are people who will bully those who are less powerful or who are in a subordinate position.
And, sad to say, but in families and other personal relationships there are those who will dominate or intimidate others.
In the instances I’ve personally experienced I tried to respond with kindness and patience. One might say with mercy and love. It doesn’t feel really great at the time. It can still be quite stressful when words meant to hurt you emotionally and psychologically are spewed at you. But to respond in the same way gets us nowhere. The response to my quiet, measured, kind reaction to the other person’s vitriol immediately has an effect. Quite frankly, the other person starts to feel embarrassed by their behavior. And then, the verbal attacker can become even angrier. This often leads to either that person walking away or ‘hanging up’ if it’s a telephonic exchange.
And, though it’s never been immediate, (sometimes it’s taken years), that person who wanted to hurt me becomes less aggressive, less vindictive, and more in control of personal emotions. Eventually, with continued contact and interaction, these types can even become patient and kind, more loving themselves. It’s amazing; it’s transformative. I will not, of course, take any credit for the positive changes I’ve seen in people to whom I have given love and kindness when they’ve shown me nothing but negativity and divisive behavior. I give all glory to God. For it was Jesus who taught us this great lesson on His way to Calvary.
When Jesus instructs us to ‘turn the other cheek,’ or give away our tunic or go an extra mile with someone who is coercing us, He knows the potential glorious outcome. (I am not speaking of ongoing physical or emotional abuse, but argumentative, judgmental people who attempt to make you feel small or who intimidate verbally in certain situations.) But do keep in mind that an overbearing boss or even a relative who is always ‘spoiling for a fight’ can be won over by patient forbearance and a loving response.
At some point, as the person softens, it’s crucial that they know where your quiet strength comes from – your faith in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But in the beginning, just remember our Savior’s perfect example and pray for the person and for yourself, for your relationship. Pray for peace within your souls and that the Holy Spirit will dwell within your relationship. Remember to always thank God for the wisdom you’ve been given, the love of Jesus in your heart, that allows you to follow as He invites us to do.