Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Turn the Other Cheek

Turn the Other Cheek

Jesus taught His disciples to turn the other cheek IF SOMEONE SMITES THEM ON THE CHEEK.

That is talking about a non life-threatening situation. Being slapped on the cheek is basically harmless.

If Jesus also had life-threatening situations in mind, then a nation should have no police force, no judiciary system, no military, no insurance policies, and anytime someone wants to harm our children we should welcome it.

But Paul taught that law-enforcement is ordained by God. The New Testament also teaches that if a man doesn't care for his own family, he is worse than an infidel.

When Paul was being tried before the courts, he didn't remain silent like Jesus did before Pilate. Paul spoke at length in his own defence.

When someone smote Paul, he didn't turn the other cheek. He said, "God will smite you, thou whited wall".

Paul taught that the church ought to be able to resolve internal disputes and judge matters. If everyone was always meant to turn the other cheek, no-one should ever desire to resolve any matters. But Paul told them they ought to be able to resolve matters.

What about when Paul demanded proper treatment according to his rights as a Roman citizen in jail in Philippi? Shouldn't he have turned the other cheek, instead of embarrassing the jail-wardens by demanding his rights?

And why did Paul appeal to Ceasar when he felt he wasn't getting justice?

Paul said, "Be a follower of me, as I also am of Christ". So we know Paul wasn't contradicting anything that Jesus said.

So, what did Jesus mean?

Well, He was talking about how to respond if someone smites you on the cheek. A slap on the cheek isn't exactly attempted murder. He wasn't talking about how to respond if someone tries to kill your children.

And He didn't say you couldn't defend yourself if someone is trying to kill you.

He didn't say you can't defend yourself in a court of law. In fact, He said the Holy Spirit will give you words to speak in such moments.

And he didn't say anything about what to do after you've turned the other cheek. He didn't say you can't confront them for their wrongdoing. In fact, He said, if your brother sins against you, rebuke him.

If the person keeps hitting you on the cheek, and actually draws a weapon and tries to kill you - Jesus didn't say you can't defend yourself. He merely mentioned a slap on the cheek.

If you react violently to a mere slap on the cheek, that doesn't show any special character. It shows character to be willing to suffer a little bit of mistreatment before deciding how you are going to respond.

But the Pharisees were finding license for all sorts of cruel behaviours, by twisting things that Moses had said. So Jesus sought to tell them what was really meant by various points of Law in the writings of Moses.

For example, on the "bill of divorce" point of Law, where Moses allowed divorce if a man found "uncleanness" in his wife, the Pharisees interpreted "uncleanness" as virtually anything and they allowed divorce for any trivial cause. So when Jesus said it's wrong to get divorced except for cases of infidelity, He was explaining what Moses really meant by "uncleanness". Jesus sought to bring them back to the heart of the matter, instead of allowing them to misuse the Law to justify all sorts of sensual behaviours including adultery and murder.

When someone slaps you on the cheek, it's not going to do you any real physical harm. If they slap you twice on the other cheek, it still won't do you any real harm. You can still choose to ignore it and walk away, and then discuss it with the person later when he has calmed down. That shows character.

But if someone is persistantly trying to harm you physically, or kill you, or treat you unjustly in law - well none of that comes under the category of a slap on the cheek does it. Otherwise Christ would have been contradicting Himself when He told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would give them words to speak when they get hauled before synagogues. And Paul would have been disobeying Christ by his defensiveness before the courts.

The point is, "eye for an eye" wasn't meant to be a license for reactions, revenge, and retaliations. We ought to be slow to react, when it isn't a life-threatening situation.

And God has ordained military and law enforcement. And a father ought to defend and provide for his household.

But to retaliate immediately when someone slaps you on the cheek, just because Moses said, "An eye for an eye", is the complete opposite of what Moses was trying to say. He was trying to teach fairness and restitution, he wasn't giving us a license for irrational responses.

And Moses also taught that matters needed to be resolved properly before elders and judges - not by taking matters into your own hands.

We ought not to be too quick to react. We ought to be willing to suffer a bit of mistreatment. We ought to be patient and measured in our responses to things. It ought to be fair and just. It was fair of Paul to place his persecutors in an embarrassing position in Philippi after they'd whipped him without a fair trial.

Turn the other cheek means don't allow yourself to be provoked. It means, don't excuse bad behaviour.

The term "turn the other cheek" is not about situations where you life might be threatened.

Turn the other cheek
was not a case of Jesus putting aside the Law - it was a case of Him explaining the Law, particularly, the meaning of "an eye for an eye".

When the person came to Jesus asking Him to speak to his brother that he divide the inheritance with him, and Jesus said, "Man, who made me a judge over you". And then He taught His disciples to beware of covetousness - Jesus wasn't saying it's wrong to have judges, or to use them.

And it isn't "covetousness" when you desire what is yours, or when you desire something new. Covetousness is when you desire something which specifically belongs to someone else. It's okay for me to desire a wife, but it's wrong for me to desire your wife. That's covetousness. It's okay for me to desire to own a block of land, but it's wrong for me to extort your block of land from you if you don't want to sell it. That's covetousness.

Jesus probably would have been quite okay with that person confronting his brother if his brother was transgressing against him.

Just because Jesus' disciples didn't defend him when He was arrested, doesn't mean that there is no longer any place for a military, under the New Covenant. In the book of Romans it says they are appointed by God.

So Jesus' statements need to be understood in the context.

Leave a comment or mail me, if I'm not seeing the full picture.

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