“27But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Recently two people asked me questions about the same section of scripture. First, I was asked a question first by someone who used to be in youth group until he graduated and then this morning by a complete stranger. Both something to the effect of, “So what about when Jesus said ‘if someone slaps you on the cheek, turn to them your others’; what do you think that means?” I went on explaining what I believe is the meaning behind this passage. When I had finished a short explanation, I was asked, “So is that what you do?” After that, sadly, we were interrupted and the opportunity to respond disappeared, but that question stuck with me. So I am going to talk about that a little bit.
Any good Bible student can explain away Jesus’ words in this way: “Well, He didn’t literally mean let them slap you again; we aren’t supposed to be doormats, after all…. We shouldn’t just give all our stuff away because people ask for it. You have to read it in the context of the day. These were common practices in those times.” The last statement I agree with. It is very important to read scripture in the context of the culture in which it was spoken and written down.
But maybe Jesus meant exactly what He said. Maybe He literally meant if someone slaps you, rather than defending yourself, open your other cheek to them. I am not trying to be passive. I would say this takes much more courage than lashing out in anger, in my opinion. We are supposed to use Jesus as an example, right? I can’t think of any situation in which Jesus fought back against personal abuse. Well Bryce, that is Jesus. Of course He didn’t fight back. Okay, fine…. How about Peter? How about Paul? How about Stephen? How about the other apostles who were martyred? Did they come out brandishing swords? Well I guess Peter did in the garden, but Jesus rebuked him! So as Christ was being dragged away to be killed, this was His defense: love and compassion?
So when is it too much; when is it finally time to say, “I don’t love you! You have hurt me too badly!” I would say structurally that is never. Man…imagine if Christ said that…. Love hurts; love is a painful thing and needs to be unconditional. That means if someone strikes you, you give them your other cheek. That means if someone asks for your “tunic” (shirt), you give him your “cloak” (coat) also. If you are forced to carry someone’s stuff for a mile, you are willing take it two miles. Have you ever heard of “going the extra mile”; that comes from this text. Love is to be sacrificial, to love beyond the point of reason or logic. Love is not self-seeking but looks to the good of others before the good of self…but as Paul teaches us in Philippians, that does not mean self is fully neglected.
Perhaps you are not convinced by my words. I don’t blame you; I have had trouble with words lately myself. I think the next section explains it well for me.
“32If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
So now back to that original question: Do I do this? Not always…. I hold onto my stuff, I am not as sacrificial as I desire to be, and I fail pretty hard at this most of the time, honestly. But I strive for this.
Lord, help my weak, selfish heart become a strong and selfless heart.
p.s. As I reread through this text, it may seem to advocate not fighting for yourself in any circumstance (i.e., life-threatening situations, abusive relationship, etc.) I am not meaning to imply this. If you are in one of these types of situations, get help.