SHOULD WE REALLY “TURN THE OTHER CHEEK” WHEN “SLAPPED”?
First Reading: 1 Samuel 26:2,7-9,11-13,22-23
Responsorial Psalm 102(103):1-4,8,10,12-13
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:45-49
Gospel Reading: Luke 6:27-38
Have you ever related with a difficult person, such as a bully, a manipulator, a nag, a sadist, or someone who is just downright mean? Have you ever suffered domestic, social, or political violence, etc., such that you become torn in different directions regarding your reaction – either by retaliating or letting go? Most of us have heard the words of Christ “turn the other cheek” at some point in our lives. Does Christ really want us to literally offer the other cheek to our adversary in the sense of provoking them to repeat the injury? What really did this very challenging teaching of Christ (turning the other cheek when slapped) mean for His biblical audience and for us today?
The ancient Law permitted the Jews – which was common and almost universal usage among the ancients – to seek redress for injuries according to the law of retribution so that the offender would suffer as a penalty the same harm he had caused: “An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” (cf. Ex. 21:24; Lv. 24:20; Dt. 19:21). But Jesus, wanting to warn the disciples against such a desire for revenge, proposes to them in today’s Gospel some examples, which should not be interpreted literally, but as exhortations to forgive those who offend or harm us.
Navigating from today’s Gospel Reading, Christ began on the note of loving one’s enemies, doing good to them, blessing and praying for them, etc., He then went ahead to say a very challenging one: “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer him the left too.” This exhortation, although practised by many saints, is not a formula to be followed literally. A proof of this is the conduct of Christ himself, who, when slapped in the palace of Caiaphas, did not turn the other cheek to the guard, but simply said to him with divine wisdom: “If there is some offence in what I said, point it out; but if not, why do you strike me?” (Jn. 18:23). Therefore, what Christ wants to say to us with his teaching is the same as what St. Paul will say in his letter to the Romans: “Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good.” (Rom 12:21). In other words, we are not obliged to subject ourselves, without further ado, to the offenses that are done to us; what we ought, rather, is to respond to them with magnanimity, that is, with a kindness of manners and words capable of morally disarming our adversary, showing them patience where they would expect to find hatred and revenge. This teaching is exemplified in today’s first reading, which reflects self-control, forgiveness, and mercy.
The First Reading presents to us the extraordinary way in which David handled the King (Saul) who had been out to kill him as a result of envy just because of his famous victory over Goliath and the admiration of the people he won. Here, David had the opportunity to kill Saul but we see David sparing Saul’s life and leaving justice for God alone. David’s sense of justice, spirit of forgiveness, and respect for Divine authority helped him to go beyond the retaliation, which others expected him to show. Here, David mirrors what Christ teaches in today’s gospel reading. Needless to say, David was not mastered by Saul’s evil, but simply mastered evil with good – this is what it means to “turn the other cheek”.
A dynamic teaching on “turning the other cheek” is demonstrated in today’s Second Reading, where Paul reminds the Corinthian community that inasmuch as everyone springs from the “earthly man” (the first Adam) and shares in his sinful nature, but through baptism, they are all called to follow the last Adam (our Lord Jesus Christ), who has come to give us new life and grace to be able to transcend our natural and earthly inclinations and imitate his ways – which in today’s Sunday context is mercy, sacrificial love, compassion, forgiveness, etc.,
Beloved in Christ, as Christians, we are going to face oppositions and persecutions. We may even get a slap in the face; however, inasmuch as we should not literally “offer the other cheek” in cowardice, we are called not to revenge nor punish those who have wronged us but simply treat them in the way of Christ. Put differently, we are to love them and let God do with them what He wills. God has the sole power to punish people who sin, not us.
Above all, as today’s Psalmist reminds us that “The Lord is compassion and love”; in seeking to imitate His ways, we should bear the following in mind: 1) not to seek revenge; 2) be willing to turn the other cheek, not in the sense of provoking the adversary to repeat the injury, but mastering the evil of our enemies with good, rather than “compensate” evil for evil; 3) be willing to forgive personal offenses whenever the charity and glory of God so require it. May the good Lord continue to bless his words in our hearts. Amen.
Written by Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora da Immaculada Conceição, Paulo Ramos, Maranhão, Brazil
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PS: Have you prayed your Rosary today?