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Cheek Turning: Completely Impractical Words Jesus Spoke

If Someone Strikes You on the Right Cheek

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Cheek Turning: “If someone strikes you,” counseled Jesus, “turn the other cheek!” Completely impractical words, wouldn’t you agree?

Who does this? You get sucker punched on one side of the face and you’re supposed to submissively turn the other cheek, too? Give me a break! Such nonsense could never possibly work. Just ask the Jews. Or, the Arabs. Right?

Maybe not. But maybe it does, too. But then, how would anyone know? Has it ever really been tried?

Oh, sure, there are those of us who mistakenly think to turn the other cheek means to run from conflict. Or, roll over and take abuse. Or, disappear to a remote corner and lick our wounds.

I’m not talking about this and neither is Jesus. I do know, however, what it’s like to do everything I can to please everybody…to fix everyone as well as every situation…and then, when I fail, which is almost always, I run at the first sign of disagreement in order to avoid a negative reaction or, worse, rejection.

Jesus is talking here instead about real cheek turning or a radical departure from the more common method for handling conflict between two people…between two religions…or between two peoples and nations.

Like the Jews and Arabs.
Like Christians and Muslims.
Like the Americans and…well…just about everybody else.

Jesus went on: “You have heard it said,’An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you, ‘Is that going to get you anywhere?’ Do not strike back at all!” (Matthew 5:38-42).

If Someone Strikes You on the Right Cheek…Do Not Strike Back at All!

This is Jesus’ strategy for resolving conflicts, ending violence, and the futility of seeking revenge. And, frankly, it’s about the dumbest thing he ever said. Isn’t it?

Of course! Everybody knows his strategy would never work. It didn’t work for  him. Which probably explains why nobody bothers to try it because the few who have, aka Jesus, the Buddha, etc., either end up being attacked, as in the latter, or dead, as in the former.

Saint Augustine of Hippo knew this, too. Which is why he used his skillful brain to craft a clever alternative – the “Just War” theory – that, for all practical purposes, has guided western history down to the present.

Good thing he did. Otherwise, the Church would have had no way of completely disregarding Jesus’ instruction.

But here’s the question I cannot escape: How do we know cheek turning is impractical? Have anyone tried it lately?

If Someone Strikes You on the Right Cheek, Kick Ass in Response

I do not know the answer to my own question but, my guess is, few have.  “Kick ass” is the cowardly but convenient way of responding to any conflict and the favorite method of most Americans.

The Church, too.

Which explains why I always find it interesting when there are discussions among Christians or articles about “the Christian perspective on war.”  Isn’t the Christian perspective on war “turn the other cheek?” Granted, there are probably many “church” perspectives on war. But I find it odd that there could be more than one Christian perspective when clearly Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek.”

“Look,” you say, “I’m a believer in Jesus but, when it comes to some of the things he taught, let’s be honest, sometimes his way just doesn’t work. It’s completely impractical and simply cannot be taken seriously.”

Really? Are we not just seeking to dismiss and, therefore, disregard Jesus’ way?

Hasn’t the “Just War Theory” succeeded in just giving “believers” a way to disbelieve Jesus’ teaching, but still regard themselves as believers? After all, idealism does not work in a world full of Hitlers, Hirohitos, Hamas or Husseins.

Right?

If Someone Strikes You on the Right Cheek, Turn the Other Also?

I admit I’m a bit conflicted here. Call me simplistic. Label me an idealist. Dismiss me outright, if that makes it a little easier for you. But, for the life of me, I cannot understand how we Christians  can claim to be “saving” the world when some of the things the Savior said himself, saints do not believe and so easily disregard.

What am I missing here?

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10 Responses to Cheek Turning: Completely Impractical Words Jesus Spoke

  1. Bryce August 7, 2014 at 6:57 PM #

    It doesn’t work because people don’t use it, period. We are afraid of the consequences. It is not the instructor or the instruction that doesn’t work. This is a perfect lesson. Christ, Buddha, anyone who doesn’t fear the consequences; and/or 100% know it is God’s desire for us to act this; and know where they are going after life, and their reward there,
    ; are not afraid to receive the consequences for they know their reward out weighs the consequence. Maybe we should “fear not”and do what’s instructed, instead of worrying so much of the other cheek being slapped. I comment this not as a judge, but one also that fears many things :^)

    • Dr. Steve McSwain August 8, 2014 at 7:03 AM #

      Thanks Bryce for your comments. They’ve been posted. I wish you well, my friend.

  2. Yolanda August 8, 2014 at 1:53 PM #

    Is it practical, no. But is it supposed to be? Most things of the spirit are impractical because it challenges us. But I think the core message is violence against violence leads to more violence. Hate against hate leads to more hate. IN a world run by this constant cycle, of course it is impractical to drive a wedge in it by not following the pattern, and its not easy. It goes against our societal norms.

    • Dr. Steve McSwain August 8, 2014 at 2:01 PM #

      It does indeed Yolanda. Thanks for adding your insightful commentary. Blessings.

  3. Bruce Morton August 12, 2014 at 1:03 PM #

    Steve:
    Let me suggest that part of the reason this statement catches people off-guard is related to a broader view. The Gospels reveal that Jesus saw a spiritual siege that much of the U.S. misses. I even see examples of such in your writings. Jesus indicted the religions that surrounded him even in Galilee in such words as those recorded in Matthew 6:7ff. We hear the echoes of such in apostolic teaching calling Christians to give up their former lifestyles — including their religious moorings to the ancient mystery religions (cf. Eph. 4:17ff.). In a day of pluralism, which you illustrate well, we struggle to see how to love and avoid violence at the same time as we embrace Jesus’ view of spiritual reality — including the reality that Satan is at work tempting. Take away a spiritual siege and Jesus’ words about “turning the other cheek” disintegrate into no more than a cultural expression. We struggle to make sense of them because we loosen them from their spiritual moorings… and allow them to be adrift.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

    • Dr. Steve McSwain August 12, 2014 at 2:52 PM #

      Thanks Bruce for your take on these important words of Jesus.

  4. Kathie Snowden August 24, 2014 at 1:15 PM #

    I think the “turning the other cheek” works well in non-physical altercations. Arguing or defending yourself when being verbally attacked only escalates the conflict. Certainly one is entitled to their own opinion and also entitled to be able to express it. In a heated argument, however, neither party would be open to “hearing” the other’s point of view anyway. Certainly this takes a lot of composure and probably more courage than “fighting back,” but if one can maintain a calm, cheerful attitude, they will have won the respect of their opponent, any onlookers, and themselves as well. It’s the same principle as being kind to your enemies. It works – not to mention catches them totally off guard.

    In physical altercations, certainly there is an element of self-defense involved. A young person or a parent of dependent children certainly is entitled to preserve their life. An older person who has no dependents might be more willing to become a martyr if necessary, particularly if one is confident of life after death.

    In the case of war between nations and states — I don’t really believe in the “just war” concept. Of course, the wars which I have witnessed first hand have not been those of the nature of WWI or WWII where one could actually feel that their country and way of life were threatened. I personally don’t feel that any of the wars during my lifetime had causes sufficient to balance the deaths of our young people. And yes, I have heard the argument over and over that our country must fight the evil on their territory to prevent it being brought to ours. I see the truth in that, and I suppose it would be a noble cause to defend innocents who were being killed by “bullies.” But, don’t even get me started on “religious wars,” — how can people be so stupid? Same concept as praying for a team to win a football game — REALLY????

    • Dr. Steve McSwain August 24, 2014 at 1:39 PM #

      Good words Kathie. Thanks for adding your insights. I wish you well.

  5. Richard R Riker October 27, 2014 at 1:52 PM #

    I think that people misunderstand the reason for turning the other cheek. To stop any conflict no matter what kind, someone must absorb the last blow. If we take the time to turn the other cheek, it gives us the time to find a solution instead of more conflict.

    • Dr. Steve McSwain October 27, 2014 at 1:58 PM #

      Agreed, Richard. The case could be made, in fact, that the point you are making IS the point Jesus was making – cheek turning as the preferred choice of response DOES indeed provide the opportunity “to find,” as you so aptly put it, another “solution instead of more conflict.” Blessings to you Richard.

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