It can be very tempting to ‘get back’ at someone whom we perceive to have wronged us or others. What Jesus offers, and Martin Luther-King took up, is a new standard; a positive approach; a non-violent way to proceed even in situations of great oppression and violence...
That’s a good story – but the very best example I ever heard of such non-violent turning around of injury came in fact not from a Christian at all, but from a Sufi Muslim, who I was very privileged once to meet. This person’s teenage son got a job delivering pizza. The very first night he delivered pizza, another teenager encountered him on a stairwell, drew a gun on him and shot him at point blank range. It was a senseless murder. It would have been entirely reasonable for the youngster’s grief-stricken father to have reacted to his murderer with anger. Their faith in God however prompted a different response. Instead they took the time to visit the young man in prison. They wrote to him and supported him throughout his sentence. When eventually he was released they found him a job in their family firm and treated him as their own son. When the father was asked how he did this, he spoke about prayer. About the long nights of waiting on God in prayer, until God took from him the desire for revenge, the anger and the hatred. And indeed, prayer is the only answer to hatred, for hatred cannot survive true prayer.
Perhaps words of the late Mother Teresa are appropriate here: “Love, to be true, has to hurt. I must be willing to give whatever it takes not to harm other people and, in fact, to do good to them.” The challenge of this passage, and it is considerable, is to treat others not as they deserve, but as God wants them to be treated – as children of light no matter what. Now we may feel that this is simply unattainable and humanly speaking that is the case. However, the Holy Spirit constantly prompts us to seek ways of love and mercy. As we lean in to the Spirit in prayer, so our heart are softened and we begin to see better what God sees – just another struggling human being just like us.
This does not mean that we should always just let things go, especially if the injustice that is angering us is bringing harm to others as well as ourselves. Jesus himself was frequently angry and found some pretty imaginative ways to express that without physical violence. A good example is found in today’s passage, in Jesus’s instruction to his followers to turn the other cheek – not at all an invitation to invite further abuse as Walter Wink well expounds when he writes:
"If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one to him as well." Why the right cheek? A blow by the right fist in that right-handed world would land on the left cheek of the opponent. An open-handed slap would also strike the left cheek. To hit the right cheek with a fist would require using the left hand ... The only way one could naturally strike the right cheek with the right hand would be with the back of the hand. We are dealing here with insult, not a fistfight. The intention is clearly not to injure but to humiliate, to put someone in his or her place ... A backhand slap was the usual way of admonishing inferiors. Masters backhanded slaves; husbands, wives; parents, children; men, women; Romans, Jews. We have here a set of unequal relations, in each of which retaliation would invite retribution. The only normal response would be cowering submission. Why then does he counsel those already humiliated people to turn the other cheek? Because this action robs the oppressor of the power to humiliate. The person who turns the other cheek is saying, in effect, "Try again. Your first blow failed to achieve its intended effect. I deny you the power to humiliate me. I am a human being just like you. Your status does not alter that fact. You cannot demean me." And effectively – if you are going to strike me, you will have to give me the satisfaction of doing so as my equal.
So let us love – but let us resist as well when necessary. For Jesus encourages us to return darkness with light; hatred with love; and oppression with a resistance that reveals the truth, without violence. We are to dim our headbeams, so that all can see the road, and all can travel the road in safety. We are to pray, until we have turned insult into intercession. In the name of Christ who teaches us to love. Amen.
by Penny Jones (Luke 6.27-38)