Hearty Heresy

What Jesus Really Meant by “Turn the Other Cheek”
March 9, 2007, 6:41 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality, Theology

As promised, here is the first of three posts concerning what I believe to be the heart of the teachings of Jesus. This is almost like esoteric knowledge here, it’s been so ignored by Brand Xianity. I mean when I was growing up being taught about “Jesus” (the fictional godman orthodox Christians worship), the real teachings of Jesus (the living, breathing, human being) were being discounted as utopian. So “turn the other cheek” doesn’t really mean what it seems to mean. If, say, Islamic fundies attack your country, somebody’ll get “a boot in [their] ass,” because, after all, “It`s the American way” (according to Toby Keith…and many, many others). If Jesus preached otherwise, well, that’s just one interpretation of the Bible–the wrong one. And that’s the real tragedy of Brand Xianity: it’s taken a truly empowering, life-giving message, the message of a lover of this life, and turned it into an otherworldly excuse for denying possibility of creating the beloved community here on Earth. Here’s what Wink has to say:

Jesus is not telling us not to resist evil, but only not to resist it violently.

Jesus gives three examples to explain his point. The first is: “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Most people picture a blow with the right fist. But that would land on the left cheek, and Jesus specifies the right cheek. A left hook wouldn’t fit the bill either, since the left hand was used only for unclean tasks, and even to gesture with it brought shame on the one gesturing. Jesus is speaking about striking the right cheek with the back of the right hand. This was not a blow to injure. It was symbolic. It was intended to humiliate, to put an inferior in his or her place. It was given by a master to a slave, a husband to a wife, a parent to a child, or a Roman to a Jew. The message of the powerful to their subjects was clear: You are a nobody, get back down where you belong.

It is to those accustomed to being struck thus that Jesus speaks (“if anyone strikes you”). By turning the other cheek, the person struck puts the striker in an untenable spot. He cannot repeat the backhand, because the other’s nose is now in the way. The left cheek makes a fine target, but only persons who are equals fight with fists, and the last thing the master wants is for the slave to assert equality (see the Mishnah, Baba Kamma 8:6). This is, of course, no way to avoid trouble; the master might have the slave flogged to within an inch of her life. But the point has been irrevocably made: the “inferior” is saying, in no uncertain terms, “I won’t take such treatment anymore. I am your equal. I am a child of God.” By turning the other cheek, the oppressed person is saying that she refuses to submit to further humiliation. This is not submission, as the churches have insisted. It is defiance. That may sound a bit idealistic, but people all over the globe of late have been taking their courage in their hands this way and resisting, nonviolently, those who have treated them thus.

This message becomes incredibly moving if one considers that the person who proclaimed it ultimately was “flogged to within an inch of [his] life,” hung on a cross, and dumped in a common grave. That’s how much Jesus believed in what he said.


2 Comments so far
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Of course Jesus taught nonviolence and submission to evildoers. But what does his being a ‘godman’ or not have to do with it? I haven’t read any Wink in a year or so, but I’m pretty sure he believes Jesus is God too. Just because the orthodox got Jesus wrong on ethics doesn’t mean they got him wrong in every other way. We don’t have to claim the opposite of orthodoxy in every instance. “They say he’s male, so he must be female. They say he’s Jewish, so he must be Roman. They say he’s God, so he must not be divine.”

But I’m right there with you on Wink (except for a few logical holes here and there). I think Hauerwas and Yoder make a more consistent case for essentially the same viewpoint.

Comment by ganes

You’re right, of course. Jesus’ message of nonviolence should transcend orthodoxy and heresy. I personally relate to the message more if I think of it as coming from a human being rather than a divine son. I’d like to read more Yoder, too. Have I mentioned that Mrs. Heretic’s sister-in-law is Yoder’s niece?

Comment by heartyheretic

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