Grace has had to navigate some difficult friendship issues this year. She was so befuddled! Her heart just couldn’t comprehend why friends would act so cruelly. Why weren’t they all just playing together having fun?!
This issue gave us opportunities for good, hard conversations about friendship. In those conversations we focused on the ultimate True Friend: Jesus. In the midst of it all Grace came to me one day and said: “You know how you write “Life with Grace?” Well, I wrote something. It’s called “Life with Mom.”
(Names have been left out for privacy and because this story is about one name: JESUS!)
Life with Mom:
One day I was talking with my friend…. When all of a sudden [another friend] started “The Friendship Show” and asked [my first friend]: “[So and so], why did Grace say mean things about you behind your back?”
I said: “I did not say mean things behind your back!”
[My first friend] said: “Let her talk first.” So she started to talk about it and then [my first friend] said: “I’m not going to be your friend because you said mean things behind my back.”
My heart was struck with sadness. I talked to my mom about this after school. She said it would be okay if you stay away from them. I felt so mad, but mom said to not return evil for evil, but return good to evil. I felt much more better, but I still have trouble with them now. Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself and to treat people good even if they are mean back.
Thank you for listening to “Life with Mom.”
I was astonished at what Grace wrote. It revealed an understanding of what’s perhaps one of Jesus’ hardest teachings:
“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 anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also…
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven…. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? (Matthew 5:38-39, 43-47)
Many people have trouble with this part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Even seasoned Christians struggle with it. I’ve heard from the mouths of believers and non-believers alike: “If someone slaps me- I’m not turning the other cheek! You slap me, I slap you!”
I think we misunderstand Jesus’ teaching here. We assume when he instructs us to “turn the other cheek” that he means we ought to be passive and just let whoever hit us do it again. Yet, God’s word does not say to be passive- but active!
Do not repay anyone evil for evil…. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)
Why is this so hard to put in action? The truth is that we don’t trust God’s justice so we pursue our own, and revenge is sweet! Until it comes around with us on the receiving end. And we blow back… and blow back again. We don’t reap justice here but anger, with relationships whirling and overcome by evil. But God says: Overcome evil with good! Jesus says: Respond with something utterly different. Be willing to respond in this radically different way even if you know you will be slapped again. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing…. (1 Peter 3:9; my emphasis)
Think of it this way: Imagine what you expect (when you are in a good relationship with someone) and you approach that one you love offering your cheek. You don’t expect a slap on the face, but a tender kiss. When Jesus tells us to “turn the other cheek” to those who have wronged us, he does not necessarily intend for us to be passive door mats but active agents of LOVE. He means our response to someone who wronged us ought to be so radical, so gentle, so active with love, like offering your cheek to be kissed rather than struck.
Well, you ask: What if I do this radical active love offering my cheek and they DO “hit” me again? How many times are we supposed to forgive and take it?
Interestingly, Jesus was asked this same question:
Peter came to Him and asked, “Lord, how many times will my brother sin against me and I forgive him and let it go? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered him, “I say to you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22)
Commentators say that Jesus was illustrating that there was no end to how many times we should forgive others. Some say the number 70 X 7 equals an amazing 490 times- too many to say he was putting a real limit on forgiveness. Other commentators say Jesus was not speaking of multiplying 70 X 7, but meant something more like: 70 to the 7th power: which is a number that is truly incomprehensible! Now, please do not think that I by any means would suggest you stay in a situation or relationship where you are being physically or mentally abused to your peril. I would suggest, however that in every situation, even in cases of extreme abuse, we are called still called to forgive and love.
So many of us cringe at these teachings. It goes against every fiber of our being. This is not the way of the world! Who can do this? Who in their right mind would live like this?
I know the answer:
What I love about Jesus is that he’s not just some “great teacher.” He doesn’t spout and pontificate about how we “ought” to live. Every word he uttered he lived out. He didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the walk. He walked it up the hill to Calvary bearing the weight of the cross on which he would be hung. Jesus willingly died on that cross for my sin and yours. Every wrong thing we do is a blow at God- a slap in His face. Jesus took every one of those blows from me and from you. And what was his response?
He turned the other cheek.
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2: 23-25)
Jesus did something actively and utterly different. He turned the other cheek in LOVE. He loves you. He wants you to see how he was willing to be destroyed for you and me – pummeled by our sin so that we could be forgiven by God, reconciled, brought back home: Returned to Him.
Question: Have you been wronged? Of course you have. How have you handled it?
Remember Jesus. He didn’t just teach “turn the other cheek.” He is the one true friend who lived it out. He turned the other cheek and we did strike it again… and again. He knew we would, and he offered his life anyway. This is what God did for me and you. His active love saved us from being overcome by evil. Jesus repaid our evil with blessings: Salvation! Forgiveness! Eternal life! Son-ship! Infinite Worth! Unconditional Love! Blessing after blessing. I don’t know about you, but that truth tenderizes the hard, tough places of my rebellious soul. It moves me to say “No!” to my heart of revenge and “Yes!” to the heart of Jesus- even if it means getting slapped.
Because when Jesus asks you and I to turn the other cheek, he is not asking us to do anything that he was not willing to do. What he did changed the world. Be the utterly different active agent of LOVE he calls you to be. Do not return evil for evil, but return good to evil. Offer your cheek.