You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.
(Matt. 5:38-41; see also Luke 6:29)
Most Christians have no idea what Jesus, a 1st Century Jew under Roman military occupation, meant when He taught this lesson. This very well may be one of the most important sermons you hear.
Let’s start by defining honor. What is honor?
1 Peter 2:17: Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Romans 12:10: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
If Martha Steward and Snoop Dog can have a show together, then we can all honor one another and get along.
Dishonor is the sugar that feeds the cancer of disunity. It feels good, but destroys the body of Christ. We aren’t building a culture of agreement, we are building a culture of honor. It’s not “I’ll honor when I agree.” Honor means I value you so much so that even if we disagree, you get to stay powerful in our relationship.
Honor EMPOWERS ONE ANOTHER. Honor allows us to happen in the design God gave us. We don’t have to agree. I punish people who don’t remind me of ME. I love and accept everyone who Jesus gave his life for. I freely receive honor, so I freely GIVE IT.
We don’t have to agree.
I’m not building the culture of total agreement, but a culture of honor.
— Mike Signorelli (@mikesignorelli_) June 28, 2020
What’s the real meaning of Jesus’ teaching:
- Turn your cheek
- Give your cloak
- Go another mile
Turn your cheek
The only way to strike the right cheek is a backhand. It’s how you strike a slave, a subordinate. To strike the right cheek first would be a slap with the left hand. Not so.
The left hand could only be used for unclean practices in Jesus’ Jewish community.
To gesture with the left hand meant exclusion from the religious meeting and penalty for ten days. In their time, the backhand was used by masters to slaves, husbands to wives, parents to children…it was representative of hierarchy. In other words, instead of being empowered, a backhand is degrading, or lowering the status of a person. If you teach a 1st century Jewish audience to turn the other cheek, the left one, you’re creating a scenario where the person asserting dominance is forced to fight them as an equal. By turning the cheek, then, the “inferior” is saying: “I’m a human being, just like you. Refuse to be humiliated any longer. I am your equal. I am a child of God. I won’t take it anymore. The way you must strike me now forces you to acknowledge my humanity.” It forces the beginnings of HONOR.
This is the Jesus way. Don’t fight violence with violence. Fight dishonor with honor.
Give your cloak
Jesus’ second example of assertive nonviolence is set in a court of law. A creditor has taken a poor man to court over an unpaid loan. Only the poorest of the poor were subjected to such treatment.
Deuteronomy 24:10-13 provided that a creditor could take as collateral for a loan a poor person’s long outer robe, but it had to be returned each evening so the poor man would have something in which to sleep.
Nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell less on the naked party than on the person viewing or causing the nakedness (Gen. 9:20-27). By stripping, the debtor has brought shame on the creditor. Imagine this! There stands the creditor, covered with shame, the poor debtor’s outer garment in the one hand, his undergarment in the other!
The tables have suddenly been turned on the creditor. A system has been unmasked.
Go another mile
Going the second mile, Jesus’ third example, is drawn from the relatively enlightened practice of limiting to a single mile the amount of forced or impressed labor that Roman soldiers could levy on subject peoples.
Such compulsory service was a constant feature in Palestine from Persian to late Roman times. Whoever was found on the street could be coerced into service, as was Simon of Cyrene, who was forced to carry Jesus’ Cross (Mark 15:21)
Whole villages sometimes fled to avoid being forced to carry soldiers’ baggage.
What we have overlooked in this passage is the fact that carrying the pack a second mile is an infraction of military code. With few exceptions, minor infractions were left to the disciplinary control of the centurion (commander of one hundred men). He might fine the offending soldier, flog him, put him on a ration of barley instead of wheat, make him camp outside the fortifications, force him to stand all day before the general’s tent holding a clod of dirt in his hands—or, if the offender was a buddy, issue a mild reprimand.
Normally, soldiers have to coerce people to carry their bags, but this Jew does so cheerfully, and will not stop. Is this a provocation? Is he insulting the legionnaire’s strength? Being kind? Trying to get him disciplined for seeming to violate the rules of impressment?
They have thrown the soldier off balance by depriving him of the predictability of his victim’s response. He has never dealt with such a problem before.
PREDICTABILITY LOSES WARS. Fight or Flight = predictable.
THE JESUS WAY IS THE THIRD WAY.
Are we really going to honor ALL people?! Because we’ve been given permission to DIS-empower certain people!
The wisdom of nonviolent resistance is that when you learn how to love the villain you see in someone else, you’ve begun the path of learning to love the villain in yourself.