At the time of Jesus, a person of power (a “bully“) will frequently, and quite often supported by the community backhand a person of lower class on their right cheek. This allowed the discipliner to hit them with their left hand. This was done to embarrass them and to assert authority and dominance. No one in the community spoke out against this.. very different from today’s society right?
“Whoever strikes you on the cheek, offer him the other one also [simply ignore insignificant insults or losses and do not bother to retaliate—maintain your dignity]. Whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.” Luke 6:29 AMP
I am sure you’re asking: What is the relevance of this … should I just give up and turn my cheek whenever someone treats me unfairly? Does God want me to be passive?
If you study Jewish practices (and the culture of the time) you would understand that the left hand was only used for unclean purposes. It would’ve been unnatural for the person in authority to back hand anyone on the opposite cheek because this would have to be done with their right hand. Turning the other cheek forces the person to use both hand, which was not practised/tolerated.
This means that this old, yet still very relevant, advice would’ve made it hard for a bully to embarrass anyone or make an example out of them. The bully in authority was faced with a dilemma. Jesus was educated, not only in the scriptures, but he was also aware of the culture during His time. Jesus spoke in parables for a reason. He played the fool to catch a fool. He was witty. He knew that this act would not be performed because a bully would not want to get their clean hand dirty.
Turning the other cheek was quite rebellious at the time. People think that this means to be passive and a pushover. No! It was a classy way of demanding equality. It was not the norm and probably made a huge mess of the process for bullies in charge during this time. What am trying to say? There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. Meaning, there’s a ratchet way and a classy way to do things.
“Violent revolution fails because it is not revolutionary enough. It changes the rulers but not the rules, the ends but not the means. Most of the old androcratic values and delusional assumptions remain intact.” – Walter Wink
Jesus was very consistent about what he believed in and what he stood for, which was love and not violence. Jesus was a rebellious ruler, but not a violent one. This teaching is also in line with when Jesus saved a woman charged with adultery from being stoned. He was basically challenging them. Jesus was radical! They always tried to discredit Jesus, but the famous line shows just how passionate and fair that He is.
“They said this to test Him, hoping that they would have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and began writing on the ground with His finger. However, when they persisted in questioning Him, He straightened up and said, “He who is without [any] sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then He stooped down again and started writing on the ground. They listened [to His reply], and they began to go out one by one, starting with the oldest ones, until He was left alone, with the woman [standing there before Him] in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She answered, “No one, Lord!” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go. From now on sin no more.” ]” John 8:6-11 AMP
I love this! If none of you have sinned then throw the first stone. They did not want to lie and get their conscious or their hands dirty. We live in different times, but these lessons are still relevant. We need to learn how to stand up against injustice without violence.
“Thus says the LORD, “Execute justice and righteousness, and rescue the one who has been robbed from the hand of his oppressor. And do no wrong; do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.” Jeremiah 22:3 AMP