Turn the Other Cheek: Jesus isn’t telling us to endure abuse and oppression but warning us not to become rigid and reactive to things that push our buttons

By Jim Rigby

When we hear the phrase “turn the other cheek,” it is easy to believe that Jesus was too naive for this world of mass shootings and hate. Jesus seems like a very nice person, but OUR world can be a dog-eat-dog struggle where only the strongest survive.
When studying a Bible text, it can be helpful to go to other world scriptures and wisdom writings to see if there might be deeper patterns in a teaching than is remembered in the traditions of our own culture.
Taoism is a religion that seeks insights in the ways of nature. Lao Tzu taught that, over time, soft things like wind and water wears down hard things like mountains and rocks. Gandhi said, “gentleness will conquer violence though it takes a thousand years.” But again we must ask “are teachings of gentleness too naive for OUR violent world?”
It is perhaps important to note when Jesus wanted to share his deeper insights for living in the Sermon on the Mount, he took the disciples out of the business and religious centers of the city, and asked them to sit in nature. If they wanted to find the way of things, Jesus told them to study the flowers and the birds.
What Darwin really taught was not that the strongest animals survive, but those most adapted the ways of nature survive and reproduce. Sure enough, when we really look into nature we see the bones of the fiercest dinosaurs who, though invincible in their own time, were no match for those smaller weaker animals who could change to a new environment.
The same observation holds for the most powerful empires in history. In their time, they all seemed invincible, but it is the work of artists and masons that have survived in statues and pyramids. The actual power of the empires were ephemeral. In the end, those who live by the sword, die by it.
It is very important to notice that the world Jesus uses when talking about being “struck” on the cheek means an open handed slap, which is usually more of an insult than injury. Perhaps Jesus isn’t telling us to endure abuse and oppression but warning us not to become rigid and reactive to things that push our buttons. Perhaps he is reminding us not let our peace of mind to shrink to the size of our conflicts.
How tiring it can be to think of life as a constant struggle with problems and fears. Perhaps Jesus is just telling us that, even when life slaps us in the face, we need not let it injure our hearts.
BIO: The Rev. Jim Rigby is pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX, and a longtime activist in movements concerned with gender, racial, and economic justice.


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