It doesn’t mean what you think it means. Read the words first:
“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”
This post is not intended to teach anyone, to preach, or to counsel. It’s simply a reflection of my reviewing what’s important to me as I search for meaning and direction as I have had experiences that beg me to look inward and upward for the higher laws that bring me peace.
Imagine, if you will, either being poor with little or no means to defend yourself in a court of law, and/or living in your enemy-occupied homeland, dealing with injustices every day.
Then imagine being told what you just read above.
We think we understand what that would feel like. I wonder how few of us really do. How many people walked away in anger when they heard those words, refusing to ponder their real meaning? How many stayed to listen?
In the culture of Christ’s day, and in the original language of the text, this passage was clear to those who were open to being taught:
“Resist not evil” (the Greek word antistenai, as used in the New Testament ) means do not meet offense of any kind with anger or violence. It was not a call to pacifism. It was a call to take a look at what you want and to be creative to get it without harming your inner peace. Like attracts like.
“Turning the other cheek” meant “I expect to be treated as an equal”. Most people are right-handed. To hit someone on the right cheek requires a right-handed person to strike someone with the back of his hand which implied superiority to the one hit. A palm slap on the left cheek forced the aggressor to admit to a person’s equality if he was going to hit him.
- And he couldn’t admit to that!
Giving your cloak meant to literally give your accuser the coat off your back. The poor of His day typically had no coats over their cloaks and were left with only their cloaks to cover their nakedness-literally. An accuser would be left viewing someone in their nakedness while holding their cloak which was more shameful for the viewer than the viewed in that culture.
- So the cloak would remain and the case would be closed because the accuser wants to avoid shame.
Military law of their day allowed a Roman soldier who occupied their land to compel a civilian to carry his heavy pack a mile but no more. There were markers along the roadside and the pack was to be dropped at the marker when reached. To carry it more than a mile meant that the control of the situation would be taken away from the soldier who, if caught in this situation, would be punished.
- So a soldier would eventually learn not to take advantage of the citizens out of fear.
What do I want, I ask myself? I want to be heard, I want to progress, I want to be treated justly.
Can I control that?
No. Even if I possessed the power to sit the whole world down and tell everyone how I felt everyone would still have to decide for themselves whether to listen and respond. And even then the response might feel inadequate.
But sitting on my hands and bemoaning my fate is not being a good steward of my life.
However, if I can heed this wise counsel from Him whose only wish for me is to find peace and happiness in this life, and at the same time gives me something to DO that turns the tables and makes my “enemy” think AND takes away his power as an aggressor to some extent, then, instead of inciting him to more anger where we both lose, we start on the common ground of respect.
This takes a degree of self-control and willingness to see other options besides hostility, violence, or giving up completely. It also takes a calmness of spirit that knows that the stirrings of anger in the heart are a signal to stop, assess the situation, and search for understanding.
Sometimes we might be the only ones invested in understanding and communicating better to reach a peaceful resolution.
But that’s okay because the first war we want to stop is the war inside of us. Right?