Turning the Other Cheek
A Reflection on Luke 6:27-38
I recently reflected on a time when I was 10 years old and sitting on our living room couch, minding my own business as I enjoyed my Saturday morning cartoons. My younger brother (who would have been about five at the time) decided it would be a good idea to randomly walk up and hit me with his toy. While the smack didn’t hurt that much, I decided in my 10 year old logic that it was my duty, as the older brother, to teach him a lesson.
So I hit him back.
My brother immediately started to cry and ran into the other room where our Mom was busy with house projects. He cleverly told her that I had hit him without mentioning the fact that he had hit me first. My Mom rushed over and demanded an explanation. Confident I had a good case to defend myself with, I admitted my guilt but said it was out of self-defense since he had hit me first.
I was confident my Mom would understand my logic and declare me not guilty of first-degree sibling rivalry.
However, to my surprise my Mom said, “But Jeremy, you are the older brother, YOU know better. It is YOUR job to set the example. You are grounded.”
My younger brother left the courtroom unscathed and took over the Saturday morning cartoons while I escorted myself to my room to serve my sentence.
That was a tough pill for a 10 year old to swallow.
I don’t know about you, however as an adult, I find Jesus’ teaching on love of enemies to be a VERY tough pill to swallow. Am I really to turn the other cheek if someone strikes me? Am I really expected to do good to people who threaten to harm me? Am I really expected to lend to others from MY limited resources and expect NOTHING back?
Most, if not all of us have people in our lives (such as co-workers, neighbors, friends, family members, SIBLINGS) who may sometimes criticize us … insult us … or even betray us.
We all have them …. but how do we respond?
Do we turn the other cheek? Or do we criticize, insult, and betray them back?
Most of us likely have people in our lives who oppose us in one way or another. Perhaps people who compete with us at work for accolades or the next promotion. Perhaps people who actively oppose something we stand for. People who hold values that oppose OUR values. People who have power over us and fail to treat us as we hope.
Do we love them and pray for them as Jesus commands? Or do we find ways to retaliate against them for daring to oppose us?
Perhaps there is someone in our lives whom we do a lot for, and they never seem to return the favor. They only take but never give. Do we only give to those who return the favors or those we can benefit from in some way?
Turn the other cheek … love our enemies … and lend expecting nothing back. Sounds inspiring, but not an easy pill to swallow when the opportunities to do just that present themselves.
However it is well worth it when we do find the inspiration and humility to practice it. Whenever we do … the world knows that we are Christians. The world will know we are Christian because doing so requires us to dare to be different. To be different in a way that shows the world there IS a better way than revenge and retribution. There IS a better way than hate. There IS a better way than division.
As Baptized Christians, we are ALL called to be different.
While the world advises us to seek revenge when someone hurts us, to be kind only to those who are kind to us, to be generous only to those who are generous to us, Jesus consistently asks us throughout the Gospels (just as my Mom taught me with my little brother), to be different. To respond not as the world does … but according to the ways of divine love. A love that always leads to the truth about who God is and why people do what they do, unity among people rather than division inspite of their differences, and charity that leads to true justice and peace.
The exact same kind of love that forgives us seventy times seven times, the exact same kind of love that says in the face of our own sin, “Father forgive him or her, for they know not what they are doing.”
This love, given to us, so that through us God’s love might be reflected to the rest of the world, especially in how we react to acts of violence, racism, greed, division, hatred, retribution, COVID19, etc.
Some might interpret this Gospel as Jesus asking us to be doormats when people insult us, take advantage of us, or hurt us. I submit this is not at all what Jesus is asking. As Christians, we are called to name and work to alleviate acts of violence, discrimination, oppression, greed, and other injustices. However, in doing so Scripture asks us to return evil with GOOD rather than evil with evil (1 Peter 3:9). The command is to “do unto others as we would WANT them to do to us” not “do to them as they ACTUALLY do to us” (Luke 6:31).
Saint Augustine recognized the tendency of humans within community to offend and hurt one another, leading to grudges and acts of retribution. He also recognized how even smaller unresolved disputes grow into much larger ones. He therefore urged those who followed his way of life to quickly seek forgiveness and offer forgiveness else the small offenses grow into hatred that leads to individuals and communities farther away from truth, unity, and love.
You should either avoid quarrels altogether or else put an end to them as quickly as possible; otherwise, anger may grow into hatred, making a plank out of a splinter, and turn the soul into a murderer. For so you read: Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer (1 Jn. 3:15).The Rule VI, 41
Perhaps the word sorry is a word that was missing in the interaction with my brother. As much as we would like to hear people say sorry to us, there are probably people in our lives who would like to hear us say sorry to them. The command is to “do unto others as we would WANT them to do to us” not “do to them as they ACTUALLY do to us” (Luke 6:31). Will we be the first to apologize when we contributed to anything that may have hurt or offended another? Perhaps sorry is a word that is missing from so many of our local, state, and national conversations today.
Yet, we are not God, and Jesus knows that what this Gospel demands of us … is NOT easy. It is never easy to say sorry as I learned as a 10 year old and every year of my life thereafter.
That is why we have the Eucharist. Every time we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we are brought into union WITH Christ, so that through our union with Christ, we may be strengthened to go out and love God and neighbor through works of justice and peace. To imitate Christ more closely each day in the way of Divine Love, to a world that is desperate for such love.