Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Turning The Other Cheek" might not mean what you think it means

Today's Gospel is a commonly quoted passage about turning the other cheek.  

Most Christians I know (including myself for a long time) viewed this as a passive, almost meek, behavior. 

But knowing a little about the culture during Jesus' time gives us a potentially different lens.

In those days, Jews, and even Romans, viewed the left hand as unclean.  They used their right hand in contact with others.  Including striking someone.  In addition, they would use the back of their right hand when slapping someone to show disgust and insinuate superiority over their victim. 

Therefore, the act of striking someone on the right cheek meant the aggressor was showing contempt for the person.

Now Jesus encouraged his followers to turn the other cheek, which meant exposing the left.  That means the aggressor would need to strike with the inside of his right hand, indicating equality, or the back of his left hand, which was unclean. That would give the striker pause! This does two things.  First, it does not show violence or fear ... in many ways it shows resistance and bravery.  Second, it activates the aggressor's conscious - which is what Jesus was really after.

I saw Fr. Barron discuss this passage once, and he summed it up by saying during a violent event, you historically had two options.  Fight or flight.  Fighting meant an eye for an eye, etc - and just bred a more violent world.  Flight, on the other hand, vindicated the violence and allowed it to continue.  Jesus offers us a third option which translates to a peaceful stand while making a point.  

Fr. Barron also gave a very interesting, modern day example of this kind of behavior.  He said one day, Bishop Desmond Tutu came upon a small bridge.  On the other side, coming at him, was a know racist who told the bishop to "step aside, I don't make way for gorillas."  Bishop Tutu stepped to the side, gestured for the man to continue, and calmly replied "I do."

No passive meekness there!
God Bless you. 


Victor S E Moubarak said...

Michael this is brilliant. I did not know this. You are a font of knowledge and I'm grateful you share these gems with us.

I still believe you should consider publishing a book with these posts and your Quick Bytes.

God bless.

Mary N. said...

This is fascinating, Michael! It would have never crossed my mind had I not read your post. I second Victor's comment...this is brilliant. Thank you :)

Victor S E Moubarak said...

You have been tagged for the LENT MEME on my Blog.

God bless.

Michael said...

Victor, Mary and Colleen - thank you so much for for the very kind words and for stopping by.

God Bless you.