When we read these verses about non-violent resistance, we usually think this is a defensive directive of Jesus. For example, a leading church bishop in Nigeria, amidst severe Muslim-Christian conflict, has repeatedly been quoted in the press as saying, “We have turned the other cheek so many times, we have no more cheeks to turn!” This statement is often repeated by young people in the conflict zones of Nigeria who have become frustrated by Muslim attacks.
Palestinian Christians involved in peace, reconciliation, and non-violence movements have helped me see this teaching differently. When Jesus teaches about “turning the other cheek,” it was an offensive—not a defensive—act of peace using a culturally relevant example of His day. A person who slapped another on the cheek normally used the back of the right hand as an act of insult by a superior to an inferior. Thus, by turning the “other” cheek, the one hit (the perceived powerless person) takes an initiative to force the aggressor to now return the swing and hit his face a second time. This time the “hit” must be with an aggressive open palm or fist, thereby transforming the nature of the relationship. Very counter-cultural.
The Christ-like response of turning the other cheek says the person does not assume the inferior place of humiliation the striker had in mind, but views himself as an equal. The supposedly powerless person has redefined the relationship, and forced the oppressor into a moral choice: escalate the violence, or respond with repentance and reconciliation.
Other transforming initiatives are to give your cloak when sued for your tunic, and to carry a load for two miles for a person who can legally demand that you carry it for only one mile.
We all must seek “transforming initiatives” within our own particular context.
In the sixteenth century, a renegade group of Christian leaders rebelled against their own religion. These dissenters called for the church to separate from the state and to reject all forms of violence. They waged their war with weapons of peace, and many died for their radical cause of calling Christians back to the way of Christ.
Known as “Anabaptists,” they dared to think that Jesus should be taken seriously when he taught his followers to turn the other cheek, love their enemies, and do good to those who hate them. These “Inglorious Pastors” paved the way for all to lay down arms and acts of violence, even at the expense of our own lives and liberties.
As a peacemaker for Jesus, I will seek out “transforming initiates” wherever I see conflict.
Lord, give me the attitude of Your peace and Your methods of not resisting an evil person that will prompt repentance and reconciliation.