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Turn The Other Cheek?


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If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Luke 6:29, NIV

 

Is there wisdom in this philosophy? Can it be taken as a directive, or is it more likely to be exaggeration designed to grab our attention? Is choosing to remove ourselves from aggressive situations evidence of limited ability to love others?

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Hi Annie,

 

I think this passage is related to the phrase "resist not evil". The resultant reactive thoughts which occupy our mind, be they evil or otherwise, seem to enhance a very intractable sense of "self" versus the "other". I recall reading somewhere that we should attempt to avoid those people, places and situations that we find "vexatious to the spirit". So, while resistance is futile, resulting in conflict, love does not require that we show up for the evil.

 

Peace.

Steve

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Annie,

 

It speaks to me to 'look the other way', 'turn away' or as Steve says "resist not evil" or "not show up". Its in contrast to a previously understood OT belief that read "an eye for an eye" (retribution or vengeance) and seems to me a much wiser approach to "evil". While some may look at the verse literally, as if we are to subject our-self to evil, that in my view, is neither seated in wisdom or what i consider good sense.

 

Eckhart Tolle has this to say about the first verse

 

The verse that follows your first concerning your shirt and "giving to everyone that asks" i think has a deeper meaning than the literal translation and needs to be taken in context to all of Jesus's teaching as a whole. Eckhart Tolle would say this about the letting go of your shirt and giving to him/her that asks.........

 

"All it says is sometimes letting go, there's more power in letting go than in clinging or hanging on to something. So there are situations when you actually become empowered when you let go, rather than when you cling. It does not mean that people walk all over you. In fact there are situations when you have to say no very clearly as to a situation or to a person, but even that 'no' can be of two different kinds."

Tolle continued, "Usually the no is very negative. When you say 'no' to a person; a person says, 'I'll give you a ride home.' But you see the person is drunk. Of course you wouldn't say yes just to be pleasant. You say no."

"Now do you say no with negative energy and in a state of resistance or do you say not that is positive? It simply means a clear and straight forward, 'No, I won't do that.'"

"This is very different from the resistant no. I call that the no that is not negative - a high quality no."

 

 

Joseph

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This is a great post.

 

“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” {Matt. 5:38}.

 

I feel this advice is iIf a person hits another, the instant response is to turn away or retaliate. They are forcing one to do so. What a person does after that instant transforms everything. In this instance a person turns back towards the perpetrator looking them in the eyes not afraid. This places one in a position of vulnerability if they refuse to retaliate by offering the other cheek also. Instead of protecting, one loves. This love is extreme, intense, powerful, and courageous. Turning the other cheek does not state to stay in an abusive relationship, but says to the person respect me as a person and not mistreatment me as I respect you and myself. I feel it says we are not to seek revenge or to retaliate, but we are not to stick around for more abuse also. Turning back and looking at the attacker says we will take a stand, assert our dignity and resolution. Jesus also said that any places that will not welcome you and refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them. (Mark 6:11) This is also advice to make a decision and no longer argue the matter, but love what is there and leave the premises as love is powerful and courageous. Follow love where it leads and both parties will benefit from this deep, ferocious response. It is also turning the other cheek in another direction away from a destructive situation.

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http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1984/aug/16/a-commencement-address/

 

There is a marvelous true story by Joseph Brodsky, a Russian Jewish poet, who was thrown into prison in Siberia for his response to a Soviet Judge, when she asked, Who made you a poet?. Brodsky dropped out of Soviet school when he was 15 and educated himself into one of the world's foremost intellectuals and poets. He also converted to Christianity after witnessing the courage and faith of his Christian friends under Soviet rule. He would work for a while to support himself, then quit and read and write till his money ran out and then find another job. At one point, the Soviet government passed an employment law designed to harass and imprison rebel intellectuals which required every Soviet citizen to be employed. Brodsky was eventually arrested. In his trial, which was followed avidly by literary figures around the world, when the judge asked who made him a poet since he had no university degrees, Brodsky blurted out the truth without thinking, "God," So he was sentenced to a Siberian Labor Camp and released a few years after worldwide protest from the literary community. Then he was forced to exile to America, severing his ties with his parents, son and wife for most of his life. He gave a commencement address on just this topic from the Bible which I hope you will read in full. But let me quote from it to help us all reflect on this great teaching:

 

"By the same token, the surest defense against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even—if you will—eccentricity. That is, something that can’t be feigned, faked, imitated; something even a seasoned impostor couldn’t be happy with. Something, in other words, that can’t be shared, like your own skin—not even by a minority. Evil is a sucker for solidity. It always goes for big numbers, for confident granite, for ideological purity, for drilled armies and balanced sheets. Its proclivity for such things has to do presumably with its innate insecurity, but this realization, again, is of small comfort when Evil triumphs.,,,Twenty years ago the following scene took place in one of the numerous prison yards of northern Russia. At seven o’clock in the morning the door of a cell was flung open and on its threshold stood a prison guard who addressed its inmates: “Citizens! The collective of this prison’s guards challenges you, the inmates, to socialist competition in cutting the lumber amassed in our yard.” In those parts there is no central heating, and the local police, in a manner of speaking, tax all the nearby lumber companies for one tenth of their produce. By the time I am describing, the prison yard looked like a veritable lumber yard: the piles were two to three stories high, dwarfing the one storied quadrangle of the prison itself. The need for cutting was evident, although socialist competitions of this sort had happened before. “And what if I refuse to take part in this?” inquired one of the inmates. “Well, in that case no meals for you,” replied the guard.

 

Then axes were issued to inmates, and the cutting started. Both prisoners and guards worked in earnest, and by noon all of them, especially the always underfed prisoners, were exhausted. A break was announced and people sat down to eat: except the fellow who asked the question. He kept swinging his axe. Both prisoners and guards exchanged jokes about him, something about Jews being normally regarded as smart people whereas this man…and so forth. After the break they resumed the work, although in a somewhat more flagging manner. By four o’clock the guards quit, since for them it was the end of their shift; a bit later the inmates stopped too. The man’s axe was still going up and down. Both guards and inmates were now watching him keenly, and the sardonic expression on their faces gradually gave way first to one of bewilderment and then to one of terror. By seven-thirty the man stopped, staggered into his cell, and fell asleep. For the rest of his stay in that prison, no call for socialist competition between guards and inmates was issued again, although the wood kept piling up.

 

I suppose the fellow could do this—twelve hours of straight cutting—because at the time he was quite young. In fact, he was then twenty-four. Only a little older than you are. However, I think there could have been another reason for his behavior that day. It’s quite possible that the young man—precisely because he was young—remembered the text of the Sermon on the Mount better than Tolstoy and Gandhi did. Because the Son of Man was in the habit of speaking in triads, the young man could have recalled that the relevant verse doesn’t stop at

but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also

but continues without either period or comma:

And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have
thy
cloak also.

And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

Quoted in full, these verses have in fact very little to do with nonviolent or passive resistance, with the principles of not responding in kind and returning good for evil. The meaning of these lines is anything but passive for it suggests that evil can be made absurd through excess; it suggests rendering evil absurd through dwarfing its demands with the volume of your compliance, which devalues the harm. This sort of thing puts a victim into a very active position, into the position of a mental aggressor. The victory that is possible here is not a moral but an existential one. The other cheek here sets in motion not the enemy’s sense of guilt (which he is perfectly capable of quelling) but exposes his senses and faculties to the meaninglessness of the whole enterprise: the way every form of mass production does.

 

Let me remind you that we are not talking here about a situation involving a fair fight. We are talking about situations where one finds oneself in a hopelessly inferior position from the very outset, where one has no chance of fighting back, where the odds are overwhelmingly against one. In other words, we are talking about the very dark hours in one’s life, when one’s sense of moral superiority over the enemy offers no solace, when this enemy is too far gone to be shamed or made nostalgic for abandoned scruples, when one has at one’s disposal only one’s face, coat, cloak, and a pair of feet that are still capable of walking a mile or two.

 

In this situation there is very little room for tactical maneuver. So turning the other cheek should be your conscious, cold, deliberate decision. Your chances of winning, however dismal they are, all depend on whether or not you know what you are doing. Thrusting forward your face with the cheek toward the enemy, you should know that this is just the beginning of your ordeal as well as that of the verse—and you should be able to see yourself through the entire sequence, through all three verses from the Sermon on the Mount. Otherwise, a line taken out of context will leave you crippled.

 

To base ethics on a faultily quoted verse is to invite doom, or else to end up becoming a mental bourgeois enjoying the ultimate comfort: that of his convictions. In either case (of which the latter with its membership in well-intentioned movements and nonprofit organizations is the least palatable) it results in yielding ground to Evil, in delaying the comprehension of its weaknesses. For Evil, may I remind you, is only human.

Ethics based on this faultily quoted verse have changed nothing in post-Gandhi India, save the color of its administration. From a hungry man’s point of view, though, it’s all the same who makes him hungry. I submit that he may even prefer a white man to be responsible for his sorry state if only because this way social evil may appear to come from elsewhere and may perhaps be less efficient than the suffering at the hand of his own kind. With an alien in charge, there is still room for hope, for fantasy.

Similarly in post-Tolstoy Russia, ethics based on this misquoted verse undermined a great deal of the nation’s resolve in confronting the police state. What has followed is known all too well: six decades of turning the other cheek transformed the face of the nation into one big bruise, so that the state today, weary of its violence, simply spits at that face. As well as at the face of the world. In other words, if you want to secularize Christianity, if you want to translate Christ’s teachings into political terms, you need something more than modern political mumbo-jumbo: you need to have the original—in your mind at least if it hasn’t found room in your heart. Since He was less a good man than divine spirit, it’s fatal to harp on His goodness at the expense of His metaphysics.

I must admit that I feel somewhat uneasy talking about these things: because turning or not turning that other cheek is, after all, an extremely intimate affair. The encounter always occurs on a one-to-one basis. It’s always your skin, your coat and cloak, and it is your limbs that will have to do the walking. To advise, let alone to urge, anyone about the use of these properties is, if not entirely wrong, indecent. All I aspire to do here is to erase from your minds a cliché that harmed so many and yielded so little. I also would like to instill in you the idea that as long as you have your skin, coat, cloak, and limbs, you are not yet defeated, whatever the odds are.

 

There is, however, a greater reason for one to feel uneasy about discussing these matters in public; and it’s not only your own natural reluctance to regard your young selves as potential victims. No, it’s rather mere sobriety, which makes one anticipate among you potential villains as well, and it is a bad strategy to divulge the secrets of resistance in front of the potential enemy. What perhaps relieves one from a charge of treason or, worse still, of projecting the tactical status quo into the future, is the hope that the victim will always be more inventive, more original in his thinking, more enterprising than the villain. Hence the chance that the victim may triumph."

 

This is a curious, true story which leaves me still pondering this tactic. I deeply admire Tolstoy, Gandhi, Dr. King, Mandela and Mother Teresa. I remember Gandhi saying non-violent resistance has nothing to do with passivity. It strikes me that King's movement would not have succeeded if Kennedy had not called up Federal Troops to enforce Marshall Law. Gandhi's movement also might have failed without a sympathetic and free Press stirring Public Opinion. Tolstoy failed in Russia, but his ideas did succeed temporarily in the US until modern religious groups started labeling everyone who disagreed with them a wild animal needing to be caged, spayed and neutered, or exterminated. Brodsky gave this Commencement address in 1984. The world has gotten a whole lot meaner since then. I link these verses to Jesus' counsel to "resist not evil" and to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God, that which is God." It seems to me just after Easter that Jesus was a very shrewd man. By going to the cross and demonstrating his power over death (and yes despite my love for Rev. Spong's theology, as a mystic, I do believe in a physical resurrection) Jesus eventually defeated the entire Roman Empire in just 300 years. That is truly remarkable. And despite all of the perversions of the Christian Church over the centuries, we always have a new generation of Christians inspired to reform and sustain Jesus' message for their time. It just doesn't get anymore miraculous than that. Happy Eastertide.

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If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Luke 6:29, NIV

 

Is there wisdom in this philosophy? Can it be taken as a directive, or is it more likely to be exaggeration designed to grab our attention? Is choosing to remove ourselves from aggressive situations evidence of limited ability to love others?

 

 

This verse has always confounded me when one considers the violence of the times when it was originally posited. If you read some of the sayings of Rabbi Hillel, who came earlier than Jesus, you will find similar sentiments. Hillel was in contrast to Rabbi Shammai, who emphasized a strict adherence to The Law.

 

I recall an earlier time in America during the 60s when Christianity was aligned with liberal thinking rather than the current trend toward rigid conservatism that shuns such "wimpiness." In right wing theology, such displays of tolerance and loving-kindness is seen as weakness.

 

As a practical matter, I can say that this philosophy of turning away wrath with kindness works only some of the time. Perhaps over the course of a lifetime, one will come away with an overall better legacy than if one is quick to retaliate evil for evil.

 

NORM

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An interpretation of the Christian message under discussion I like ... not sure it is logical, is ... it's not that we should not have enemies (or go to war or put people in prison etc) but that we should do it respectfully.

 

All to often we demonize the opposition, just think of the prewar Germany. Or 9/11 on both sides.

 

I think people pay lipservice to this .... love the sinner but not the sin.

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Thanks for your responses, all illuminating.

 

I'm reminded of a kids' Christmas story, where Santa is 'ambushed' by a family who in turn demand his hat, coat, gloves and boots. He rides off into the night shivering away, but presumably heading for the next house.

 

Annie

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Well, obviously I'm not going to let anyone hit me, but I've always interepreted the verse to mean - don't be like them!

 

People might be nasty and rude, or narcissistic and self-centered, but don't be like them. Don't respond to their rudeness or narcissism with the same thing. Don't let people drag you down into their bad behavior.

 

Be a better person, take the high road.

 

Very simplistic it seems, but it works for me.

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  • 2 months later...

Hello Annie, a bit late to the conversation, sorry but heres my two pennies worth, the answer I got back when I asked this question was in those times it was manly so to speak, to hit someone with the back of your hand and not the plam of your hand, and with more people being right handed, turning the other cheek would mean they would have to use their weaker hand or the less manly way of palm of the right hand also disgracing themsleves, in front of other men, so to turn the other cheek was a way of retaliation without violence. I hope that makes sense to you.

 

The psychological way, is were all hard wired to get even, I always think of things this way (and it is only my way, it might be wrong) I'm a spirit in a body not a body with a spirit. This shell won't last forever and all those things were hard wired to do are a small hurdle to get over considering the power our spirit has, empowered by the holy spirit, which is only limited by these bodies.

 

I always ask myself (again it's only my opinion that might be wrong) is the stress of getting even going to do me any good long term, will it get me to the pace I want my mind to be, or will forgiving and letting it go thinking in the grand scale of things place me that much closer to God.

 

I have heard of atheists having accidents and losing ther legs and then turning around and saying if I still had the use of my legs I wouldn't be a Christian now. So to give up my legs in this life to one day be with God in the next is worth it.

 

Sorry for going on a bit I hope you can get some type of answer to your question.

 

Take care

 

B

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