Have you had one of those weeks before? You know the kind; where everything that can go wrong seems to have gone wrong and way too may people seem to have conspired to trip you up. Imagine that you’re venting over a cup of coffee to your best friend, and suddenly your friend looks you straight in the eye and tells you: “Turn the other cheek.” You stare blankly at your friend as if you have never heard these familiar words before. You know Jesus said this, but it’s not what you were expecting your friend to say to you. Turn the other cheek? Who does he think he is? Deputy Jesus? Still, you know your friend is quite right. That is exactly what Jesus told us to do. And who we ought to be.
Turn the other cheek. There is a tendency to write off this radical command of Jesus’ as impossible, or to interpret it to suit our reasoning. It seems too hard to follow. In the heat of the moment, when someone has just acted towards us in a manner that feels like a slap in the face, we feel more inclined to give them a sharp slap on both their cheeks than to turn our other one to them. In fact, in common parlance, turning the other cheek has come to mean simply ignoring what the offender has done. But ignoring someone’s unkind action and refusing to react to it, while commendable, is not at all the same thing as repaying their bad act with a good one. It would be far easier to ignore them, block their number, cross the street when you see them coming, and never speak to them again.
Perhaps, some might argue, the command to turn the other cheek wasn’t meant to be taken literally? But there’s no doubt that Jesus meant everything He said; our task is to understand His meaning. It is likely that Jesus was referring not just literally to how we should react to a slap on the cheek, but also to a wide gamut of actions that may feel like a slap—perhaps an insult, rejection, false accusation, and even more grievous harm.
Turning the other cheek doesn’t only apply to relatively small offences? The family of Blessed Rani Maria Vatallil not only forgave Samandhar Singh, the man who violently killed Rani in 1995, they also visited him in jail and brought him gifts. Then they petitioned successfully for his release and embraced him as a brother and son.
Determining how to turn the other cheek in various situations gives us leeway for some creativity. For instance, a woman who had suffered rejection and ill treatment in a team she worked with baked a cake for the team at the end of the project, even though she had nothing to gain and would not need to interact with them again. She noticed that they were so disarmed by her kind gesture they smiled at her for the first time and looked like different people. Even more amazing was her own change of attitude. She had struggled to forgive them for weeks, but after turning the other cheek, she easily forgave and felt no bitterness when she thought about them.
Three things happen when you turn the other cheek. Your good side shows up. You enemy’s good side shows up. Blessings flow.
Turning the other cheek is an opportunity to show a side of our face that reflects the Grace, mercy and love of Jesus. We forget about ourselves for a moment. We may also in some instances get a chance too see where we may be wrong ourselves. The woman who baked the cake for her colleagues later felt that she too had been overly sensitive. St Augustine wrote, “But men are hopeless creatures, and the less they concentrate on their own sins, the more interested they become in the sins of others. They seek to criticise, not to correct. Unable to excuse themselves, they are ready to accuse others.” Jesus warns us against this very thing, saying, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?'” (Matt 7:3).
Of course there’s always the alternative—to carry your enemy on your back everywhere you go, take them to bed with you and wake up with them first thing in the morning; at least, it feels like we’re doing that when we’re hurt or angry with someone and we haven’t forgiven them.
Turning the other cheek may be one of the most amazing secrets Jesus has revealed to us to help us forgive. To put aside the bitter feelings. To become more like Him—gentle and humble in our hearts (See Matt. 11:29). Turning the other cheek is a fantastic strategy for victory. Give it a try sometime. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Who knew turning the other cheek could be so amazing!