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25th October: An Eye for an Eye

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:39 (NIV)

So often we get angry -- and sin. Our impulse is to retaliate when someone, perhaps a patient, or a friend, hurts or insults us, making us angry. The Jews gave this impulse the seal of approval and codified it as the law of retaliation, the lex talionis `eye for eye, and tooth for tooth' (Mt 5:38).

But Jesus tells us not to retaliate or resist (Mt 5:39). Paul, quoting Psalm 4:4, urges us, `In your anger, do not sin' (Eph 4:26). My understanding of this is that it is normal to feel hurt and angry when we are attacked or rejected in some way, but it is wrong to allow the anger to flow into retaliation, revenge, hate or destructiveness. We should not hurt back. We should turn the other cheek.

O how hard it is not to hit back! All too often I find myself letting the Lord down on this one. I need the loving power of his Holy Spirit -- and a strategy. I think Jesus is teaching us a strategy: turn the other cheek. What does he mean? I do not think he is saying: `Be nice. Just soak it up and be a doormat'. This is what I assumed I was being taught in my Christian upbringing, and I find that many Christians still have the same assumption.

But Christ's teaching about turning the other cheek occurs in a chapter dealing, inter alia, with reconciliation and loving even our enemies. I am to love the person who has struck me and try to be reconciled with him. And how else can I turn the other cheek unless I stay with that person rather than walk away? Walking away means to ignore the incident, to sweep it under the carpet. On the other hand, if I use the energy of my anger to stay with my attacker, turning the other cheek (which takes courage), I neither retaliate nor walk away -- I face him, I remain vulnerable, I open up the opportunity for dialogue. My attitude is one of love, of seeking reconciliation.

My attacker is surprised, wondering why I did not defend myself or retaliate. I maintain my personal integrity (far from being a doormat). I ask `Why did you hit me?' and I may discover that he had good reason! Many a friendship started this way. If I had retaliated or just walked away, I would have lost yet another opportunity.

Dear Lord, what do you really mean
when you tell me to turn the other cheek?
It is such a hard thing to do.
Help me to understand, deeply.

Further reading: Pr 15:1. Mt 5:38-48.


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