Journal Entry // May 7, 2023
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 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. (ESV)Matthew 5:38–39
In this passage, Jesus is bringing our attention to the idea of retaliation. As with most of these warnings, Jesus is speaking directly to the people of the culture and time of his visitation. It would be an easy matter to take this verse out of context and apply this commandment meant for civil authorities to provide an appropriate and adequate punishment based on the crime that was committed and move it into our personal life and circumstances. Doing so would lead us to the thought that personal retaliation is not only justified but required. Jesus calls this out and speaks to our hearts with difficult words that deal with our ever-present felt need for retaliation.
The first action that Jesus uses as an example is that of being slapped on the cheek. This is not the physical violence of someone attacking you with harmful intentions, which would of course necessitate self-defense. This act of slapping your cheek is meant as an insult. An insult that is meant to humiliate you before others and denigrate your character. Jesus is wanting us to turn the other cheek and possibly receive another insult instead of retaliation.
This is a difficult passage to put into practice. Every day the world around us is teaching and encouraging us that retaliation is the just and right way to respond. The world encourages me to stand up for myself and not let others bring me down through insults. We are taught to respond in kind. So an insult received deserves an insult in return. This continuing escalation leads to an increasing level of violence and harm to each other. In this effort to defend ourselves from disparaging attacks, we ourselves turn to disparaging our attacker and increasing the level of tension and offense.
Jesus calls me to think differently than the world. He calls me to accept the insult for what it is and respond in kindness and love toward the attacker. If there is physical violence involved, then there is absolutely a need for self-defense and to remove myself from the intended harm. But if the person is insulting me or calling my character into question, I am not to respond with the notion of “an eye for an eye.” I am called to respond in love.
What does this response of love look like in my life? Most times, it looks like apathy. Not that I don’t care about what is said about me or the intentions behind the insulting words (or slap). I do care and this should cause me to turn the other cheek to the person as I focus my attention on Jesus. This is turning the other cheek. When I receive that insulting slap, I don’t focus my attention on the person who just slapped me on the cheek, I turn my face toward Jesus which will mean I expose my other cheek to the attacker. As I look to Jesus and focus my attention on him alone, I will remember and understand that Jesus received insulting slaps and disparaging words about himself as well. And how did Jesus respond? In love.
Love is how I am called to respond as well. Love does not retaliate but actually does the opposite. Love calls me to seek reconciliation with my attacker if possible. Love calls me to pray for my attacker. Love calls me to forgive… even if they are not seeking forgiveness. How can I do this in practice? It is only possible through the presence of God’s Spirit dwelling within me. When I am grounded in the firm truth of God’s love for me through the Spirit of Christ, then I will view everything through this lens. All of life’s circumstances and situations need to be viewed through the amazing grace and mercy that Jesus has shown me. For I was also that person insulting Christ. I was also that person that hated Jesus. And when I was steeped in hatred toward him, Jesus loved me… Jesus died for me… Jesus saved me. So, I am enabled to go forth into this world with the freedom to love others out of this great love that wells up out of me through the Spirit.