Turning the Other Cheek

March 1, 2010

Turning the Other Cheek

We stood at a distance, watching. We looked on silently as Jesus took his place on the top of a mound, waiting patiently for those who had gathered to settle themselves. We looked a certain pleasure and discomfort at the disorderly mob that surrounded him. There must have been hundreds of people pushing in to hear his words, most of them poor and hungry. The place was brimming over with the sick and the dispossessed, the widow and the orphan, the ones without a voice and without hope. We watched as Jesus looked at them with compassion and prayed peace into their lives. As he stood before them, we heard him pronounce blessing upon those who are poor in spirit, for those who are merciful despite their hardships, those who are pure in spirit, and upon those who seek peace rather than war.

But Jesus also challenged them saying, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” He said to them, “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. If someone forces you to carry their pack one mile, carry it two. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, no not demand it back.” Then he finished by saying, “Do to others as you would have them do to you. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

When he had finished, he turned toward the west, where we were sitting, we who have the power, who have the authority, and who have a voice. For a time he just stared at us, then he approached and addressed up directly: “Do not be mistaken, these words are not for you.”

Then Jesus raised his voice and said, “I am sending you an infinitely more difficult message.

“A time in coming when those you now treat as enemies and slaves will show you nothing but love in return, when those who you curse with indifference will offer you blessing. When you slap these people on the right cheek, be prepared, for they will turn their left cheek toward you. When you steal their cloak, they will offer you their tunic. And when you demand that they carry your possessions for one mile, they will freely carry those possessions for two. They will give freely what you demand from them, and they will not seek to gain back what you have stolen from them. They will treat you as they would long to be treated. You will judge them but they will not judge you. You will condemn them, but they will not condemn you.”

Before leaving us he finished by saying, “These people are my message to you. Heed this message and you will live. Ignore it, and you will perish.”

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The thoughts are pretty simple on this one:

All throughout the Gospels Jesus’ fiercest opponents are the religious authorities. It is almost a lazy point to make if I say that very often the church is at cross purposes with Jesus, and that some of the most hateful people I’ve ever met are 100% certain they’re going to meet Jesus in Heaven after they die. What this retelling of the Sermon on the Mount does is reframe the story. Instead of reading the words of Jesus and identifying them as paralleling one’s own life, the reader is forced into the perspective of the oppressor. It forces a Western Christian to assume the mantle of Pharisee; the opponent of everything Jesus.

It also makes another interesting point. If you see this stuff happening around you, take quick note of the side you’re on: If love, generosity, mercy, forgiveness, humility, and peace are flowing toward you, you may be on the wrong side of the fence.

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