Matthew 5:38-40 (New International Version)
An Eye for an Eye
‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles…’
Oh. They have done it now. Your spouse or significant other has insulted you in front of your friends – and everyone knows it. The driver who just cut you off has flipped you off, too. A non-black person dared to use the n-word in your presence or worse, to your face. What should be your response?
You know what you want to do. You already know what comes naturally. With a few well chosen words, you could easily put your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend in his/her place. After all, who knows more about what a mess (s)he is than you? It wouldn’t be difficult to lay on your horn and yell back at that rude driver. It might not matter to him/her, but you’d sure feel better. Your fist is itching to connect with the face of the racist who dared to insult not just your person, but your humanity. No, it wouldn’t be hard at all to do what comes naturally. But it would be wrong.
When I was in college, I waited tables at a local Tex-Mex restaurant. A co-worker there, who was one of the most pro-black women I have ever met, commanded the respect of the entire staff and simultaneously won the hearts of co-workers and patrons alike. People would arrive asking to sit in her station. One evening, after finishing her shift, she left through the front door, joking and laughing with a fellow waiter, when a White patron waiting in line called her the n-word and the b-word – together. Laughter died in her throat as she turned to stare this man in the eye. In a soft, but firm voice, she asked him, “Did that make you feel better about yourself, Sir?” When he gave no response, she bid him to have a blessed evening, and went on her way, laughing and joking.
After she retold the story to me, I was utterly confused. How could one of the most borderline militants I had ever met, respond in such a way? Her reasoning was simple. She explained that she knew that the man had uttered those words to get a specific reaction. She understood that he was trying to provoke her. She refused to give him the satisfaction.
It would be years later when I was attending a seminar on living out the gospel in my career and ministry that I would recall my friend’s response. The lecturer was explaining the verse above. He was careful to make sure that we understood that Jesus was no punk. After all, this was the guy who flipped over the money changers’ tables in the temple. This was the guy who called out the Pharisees, the most powerful and most feared sect in Judaism at the time. This was the man who bravely took on the cross. Jesus did not lack power. He just understood how to use it.
The lecturer explained that Jesus did not expect us to cower when slapped and then whimpering and afraid, turn the other cheek. He meant for us to stand taller, staring our abuser in the face without fear or anger, and give him the opportunity to strike the other cheek – as if to say like my friend did that evening long ago, “Did that make you feel better about yourself, Sir?”
Jesus wants us to refuse to give our power away. He is showing us a way to overcome insult and injury without giving in to our enemy – who by the way is not the person you see. Our real enemy is the one manipulating the person standing before us. We know his schemes. Is there a time to fight? Sure. Ecclesiastes confirms this. But it is always the right time to use wisdom.
If we can rise above our pettiness and see the bigger picture, we have hope of winning the wounded, hurting, and lost. Let the petty and ridiculous do what the petty and ridiculous do. But you, who know Christ, rise above it. Offer your cheek, your coat, your strength, your time to the one who would try to force you to give it. Offer them up in the name of Jesus and (how about this?) with a good attitude and a willing spirit. Allow them to count for eternity.
Show your offender(s) that it is a small matter to respond in dignity to the provocation of the foolish. Then love him/her/them anyway. They won’t know how to act. Your continued love and respect may not ever win them to the Lord – but it will please God.
Be blessed, Family!