Turn the Other Cheek

In your life, you will have conflict.

What’s important is how you deal with it.

Our backyard backs right up to the neighborhood pool. Next to the pool are sand volleyball courts, basketball courts, and something else that had never looked interesting to me before… tennis courts.

Last year I decided I wanted to learn to play tennis. So I went to the Goodwill store to get a couple used tennis racquets. I tossed that fuzzy neon green ball high into the air for the first serve that I thought would start a whole new world of cardio for me,

I had no idea it would teach me so much more.

Have you ever done something so out of character that you even shocked yourself? Something to where when you talk about it later you still could not believe you did it?

I was a teenager at school, walking through the overly crowded halls during a passing period trying to get to my next class when I witnessed an incident.

My friend, Ronnie (who wasn’t nerdy but still insisted on carrying every one of his books to every class without a backpack) was holding his books on his hip with his left hand as he was trying to get his locker open with his right hand. Then, someone came by and smacked his books down and they fell to the ground scattering everywhere.

This happened right in front of me and I laughed because it was funny. Well, Ronnie didn’t think so. As a matter of fact, Ronnie thought I was the one that knocked his books down. So, in the middle of the over populated hallway with people trying to reach in lockers and get through to their next class…

Ronnie slapped me.

He slapped me.

Hard.

And everyone saw it.

There is not much time to react in situations like these but enough for me to evaluate that I could react in one of two different ways. I could do nothing and try to explain that it wasn’t me or like prison I could make an example out of Ronnie.

There were too many witnesses.

No question, an example had to be made.

After Ronnie slapped me the whole side of my face stung, it was almost disorientating- it must’ve affected my hearing because it sounded as if everything was under water. Before I allowed myself to feel any pain I grabbed him by his collar and shoved his head in a nearby open locker then started slamming the locker repeatedly on his head.

What is the proper way to react when someone wrongs you?

Our initial reaction is to retaliate and get even.

Other people say not to sink to their level and just let it go.

As Christians, are we really supposed to just turn the other cheek

And let people walk on us?

Jesus spoke about this very thing, he even talked specifically about what to do if someone slaps you. He used this to introduce a new way of thinking recorded in Matthew 5:38.

The biography of Jesus’ life is recorded 4 times in the Bible. One of these were written by a man named Matthew. Matthew worked for the IRS and then was called out of darkness and into the marvelous light and became one of Jesus’ disciples.

His story begins with Christmas-the birth of Jesus. The King orders all baby boys be killed so Jesus’ family flees to Egypt.

They return to Nazareth, fast-forward 30 years, Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, and then goes into the wilderness for 40 days where he’s tempted by the devil.

Then Jesus begins his ministry, calls some people to be his disciples and follow him and then starts to give talks or speeches to crowds of people.

One of these times was famously dubbed “The Sermon on the Mount” where Jesus famously talks about those who are blessed. He also talks about ‘salt’ and ‘light’

Israel was known as God’s chosen people (the people of God) and they were being challenged to realize that God doesn’t have favorites. Wait a minute, if they’re the chosen, aren’t they his favorites? Israel is chosen to be this ‘salt’ of the earth and to be this ‘light’ of the world and here’s how…

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

-Matt 5.38-39

How many of you have heard this passage? Turn the other cheek? “I guess I’m just supposed to just take it.” Which essentially turns us into the ‘First Congregational Church of Wimps’ or the ‘Assemblies of Wusses’ correct? Why does Jesus say right cheek? Why not just Cheek?

If two people face each other and you think about how someone is hit on the right cheek, they are slapped. We know this because a slap was used with the back of the hand and you would use the right hand because it was symbolic of power (Jesus sits at the right hand of God). The left one was used for maintaining bodily functions (i.e. no toilet paper… are you with me?)

Picture a courtyard of slaves and the owner goes out to discipline one of them slapping him on his right cheek, because a slap was what you did to someone who was beneath you, lower than you. So, when Jesus says ‘turn to him the other also’ what has just happened?

Now the owner has to make a decision. It’s impossible to slap the other cheek so if the owner wants to hit him now he has to strike him with his fist, which essentially would be him saying ‘you are now my equal’. This implies ‘hit me again but this time as an equal, not inferior’. If the owner decides not to hit the slave, the slave wins.

For most people there are 2 options:

  1. Do Nothing
  2. Do Something equally wrong

For the past seven years my wife has been dropping not-so subtle hints that we should get a puppy, and I’ve always said no. They smell, they shed, and they have to be trained.

Well… I finally gave in. I surprised her with a golden retriever puppy. His name is Charlie. Charlie is a great dog.

Within less than a week he was potty trained. He rings a little bell when he needs to go outside. But he’s still a puppy… he’s constantly nipping at something.

We bought him chew toys because we knew he was teething, but apparently, a fluffy stuffed shark isn’t as satisfying as clothes that we were wearing or even our own flesh.

One time he nipped at Ericka’s leg and even though it doesn’t hurt we don’t want him to think it’s okay and so I got down on all fours and I took his leg and put it in my mouth and bit down and said, “How do you like it?”

Ericka said “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m teaching him not to bite”. Ericka said “that’s not dogs, that’s babies, you’re not going to teach him anything you’re just going to hurt him.”  I said, “Oh, sorry buddy” and petted him.

Even with dogs repaying evil for evil is not helpful. Keeping the violence in circulation doesn’t help anything. Being passive and just taking it won’t change your outcome.

The lie of redemptive violence is the illusion that if somebody does something wrong to me, that we can make it right by doing something wrong back to them.

We see this in movies like Jack Reacher, John Wick. The sequels will keep on coming and coming because it’s the same story over and over.

The problem with this is, it’s not how the real world works. Ask anyone that’s ever been in a relationship. Husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend they all take turns hurting each other back and forth when they feel like things aren’t fair, or when they’ve been slighted or mistreated.

Have you ever gotten even with someone and said, “excellent! I suddenly feel a sense of warmth and peace.”

No. Why?

Because revenge always escalates

And doing nothing creates despair.

You have to Think Different

Discover a new way to be human

Do not seek revenge but seek a creative, healing, restorative justice.

What is your reaction when someone is unjust to you?

A few thoughts about this 3rd way of thinking:

Power

  • Turning the other cheek flips power on its head, it flips power out of the hands of the oppressor, if he hits you it upsets the whole hierarchy, if he doesn’t… you win.

Courage

  • Takes fierce courage to turn the other cheek had to be so centered and grounded. MLK, Rosa Parks

Refusal

  • Refusal to participate in anything dehumanizing
  • I’m going to refuse to go along with anything that treats someone less than human
  • Will refuse to take part in anything that degrades the human spirit
  • I refuse to go along with anything that mars the divine image that resides in each and every one of us

Creativity

  • Is like a way of life
  • Like a muscle to develop
  • That’s why you say things like “aw I shoulda said…” hours after a conflict with someone-because you’re learning to use creativity

This way of living always leaves room for your oppressor to have a change of heart.

There is always the chance that your oppressor will repent.

Which is the point.

The same thing that tennis taught me is what early video games taught kids of the 80’s. Among the first of video games was one called Pong. It was two lines with a square ball (a square ball because they hadn’t figured out rounded graphics yet, it was just one massive pixel) and with a controller you would move your vertical line up and down in order to bounce the square ball back and forth.

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in this same kind of world with someone?

Same thing with tennis. When I was on that blacktop court and that fuzzy neon green ball soared over the net, it started teaching me that every time I hurled something in someone else’s direction they were coming back with a hit that was harder and faster. And this continues back and forth keeping violence and injustice in circulation.

The lie of redemptive violence is the illusion that if somebody does something wrong to me, that I can make it right doing something wrong back to them.

After repeatedly slamming a locker door on Ronnie’s head a teacher grabbed us both by our ear and dragged us down to the principal’s office. 

While waiting to receive our punishment I apologized to Ronnie for using a locker as a battering ram on his head. He apologized for slapping me across the face because he thought that I had knocked his books onto the floor.

Repentance. Forgiveness.

In your life, you will have conflict.

The important thing is how you will deal with it.

May you see that revenge always escalates.

It only keeps injustice in circulation

May your eyes be opened to the fact that there is another way.

May you fully understand what it means to turn the other cheek.

May you see that through Jesus there is a new way to be human.

May you think different.

Jeff Sandstrom is a thank you letter to God. When he’s not performing N’SYNC dance moves he’s connecting people to their creator as a church planter in the greater Chicago, IL area. Boom, done!

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