To Them Who Did Not Turn the Other Cheek (everyone)

1 07 2011

Jesus was a peculiar individual, to say the least.  We thought that merely abstaining from sex with another man’s wife was sufficient for a sinless life, but he told us that we could not even give her a hidden, much enjoyed, sideways glance.  We could understand that much if we really strained ourselves.  Not leering at a woman was something of an extreme measure along the lines of avoiding sex with her.  Yes, but, when he said that we would be better off plucking out our eyes than let them cause us to sin, well, we thought that was just hyperbole.  What part of your body causes you to sin?  Get your knife.  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  A Christian is one who follows the teachings of Christ…but not that close.

When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, an act that will lose its sting much like the sinking of the Lusitania, Christians from both sides of the aisle took opposing views on how to respond.  On the left, we had people saying that we should practice the teachings of Christ and turn the other cheek, meaning that we should be passive and do nothing.  Those on the right said that Christ’s teachings in this were meant on a personal level, not a national one, and that if we did nothing, then we were just inviting more attacks.  Neither side really applied Christ’s message to the situation.  More importantly, though, the leftist response underscores a serious problem in modern Christian understanding of this passage, and the conservative response and their failure to hit this misunderstanding head-on seems to indicate that they don’t generally understand it much, either.

According to Christ, when someone hits your cheek, you ought to offer him the other cheek to hit, also.  When someone steals your coat, you give him the shirt off your back (ladies, don’t do this, exactly).  Turning the other cheek is not passive.  He didn’t say to hug your knees and cry.  What he said is, essentially, that you should invite the other person to do it again.  Now, we’ll work with the understanding that Ezekiel told us that we are responsible, at least to some extent, for the sins of our neighbors.  We can say it would, in this case, refer to fellow members of the family of God, but there is, at least, the expectation that we should warn another person of their sin, if we see it.  Christ’s view of sin is simply that we should do everything in our power to prevent even the tiniest, most subtly discernible sin.  By inviting a second strike, or a second theft, the initial impression is that we’re encouraging a second act of sin from the other person.  This is not the case.  The fact is, simply, that a man cannot steal what has been freely given to him.  If you invite the other person to slap you hard in the face, then you have not been wronged, really, when the other person takes you up on your offer.  Fundamentally, when you make the offer that the other person offend you again, you actually absolve them of that sin.  It’s the evasion of sin taken to an extreme.  Not only do we need to do everything in our power to avoid committing sin ourselves, but we ought to do what we can for others, also.

I have only seen this sort of thing happen once.  My parents caught an illegal immigrant in their storage room, stealing clothing.  What was their response?  They helped her steal more.  I’m sure she was baffled.  The moment she realized that she was welcomed to take it, her conscience was cleared.  The guilt was gone and over with.  If they had pretended not to notice, then she would have walked away a thief.  She would have thought herself a thief, and, for all practical purposes, she would have been right.  She could not take up an offer that was never made.  It’s not a gift until someone actually gives it.  Until then, it’s just another theft.  Turning the other cheek can not ever be a passive act.  It never will be.

In the matter of a literal strike to the face, or anywhere else, the Christian will likely either find himself fighting back, or, simply, keeling over in tears.  The offender will then walk away satisfied, or continue offending.  Either response by the Christian is an unchristian response, unfortunately.  To take Christ’s teaching to heart means that when I finish crying my eyes out, I’ve actually got to find that jerk and ask him if he would like to hit me some more.  He needs to know that he took nothing from me that I didn’t willingly give.

Ouch.  You’re welcome.

It reminds one of a time when Jesus told his followers that they needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have everlasting life.  Oh, it’s such a cliché, now, but then it sounded like pure craziness.  Naturally, people turned away in droves, shaking their heads and mumbling about the crazy rabbi.  It sounded crazy for a person to cut off his own hand to prevent sin.  It sounded like unproductive madness to give someone permission to strike back.

Hit me, please.  No, really, if it makes you feel better, then do it again.

Passivity is much easier, but it doesn’t really accomplish the purpose of preventing sin, aggressively and fanatically.  Doing nothing about it not only is unpleasant, but it doesn’t really even earn you any points in Heaven.  You get to suffer, and it doesn’t even count for anything.  Now when it comes to the matter of one who goes about killing others, the underlying principle is still the same: prevent sin fanatically.  Stop that killer from killing again.  The other man’s cheek is not yours to offer.  Stop that sin.  Make the beating stop.

Nothing in the Christian doctrine is so well-versed, frequently said, and, amazingly, so rarely followed.  We could even go so far as to say that if you won’t turn the other cheek, and if that aversion causes you to sin, then perhaps we should get out the knife and eliminate that part of the body.  Indeed, Christ promised his followers quite a bit of suffering.

No, we don’t mean it, really.  When we fail, repeatedly, to turn the other cheek, we aren’t really going to cut our cheeks off.  When we get hit, we aren’t going to find the person on the following day and offer our faces as punching bags for a second round, in order to make a point that the first round was also our gift to him.  No, what we’re going to do is hug our knees and cry like a baby…or, we could seek him out and beat him to a pulp, which feels much better and actually does something toward preventing recurrence.  We’re going to hold our neighbor to his sins and hope he burns forever for it.  Then, at the end of it all, we’re going to hope to God that he doesn’t do the same to us, because he’s already said that he will forgive us as we forgive others.

When it comes to the teachings of Christ, we generally accept as much as we can, rationalize the rest, and then fail even to perform what little we can accept of it.  We can only hope that Jesus was speaking in hyperbole, because if he wasn’t then we jest when we call ourselves Christians.  This hope isn’t going to get us very far, considering that he demonstrated his meaning by giving up his life to people who wanted to kill him.  Even his earliest followers did the same.

This Christianity stuff is really intense if you’re serious about it.  This is no joke.  I’m not laughing.  I’m wringing my hands and hoping I read it wrong.

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