On February 20th, I preached a sermon based on the gospel reading Matthew 5:38-48. This is where the famous “turn the other cheek” comes from. I do not have a sermon text to post, because I preached from a few note cards. However, I wanted to share the main points of the sermon and the resource that I used.
My sermon was primarily informed by Walter Wink’s article How Turning The Other Cheek Defies Oppression.
Walter Wink argues that “Do not resist an evildoer” would be better translated as ”Do not violently resist the evil one.” After all, Jesus did resist evil and calls us to do the same! It’s violent resistance that Jesus rejects, and he goes on to give 3 examples of non-violent resistance: 1. Turn the Other Cheek, 2. Give Your Cloak, and 3. Go the Second Mile.
If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. – Turning the other cheek is not being a doormat. In Jesus’ day, a person would only hit another person with their right hand (the left hand was considered unclean). The only way to hit someone’s right cheek with your right hand is to backhand them (which is an insult, it implies dominance). By turning the other cheek, you make it impossible for them to backhand you again. If they hit you with the palm then they are now calling you an equal.
If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well. – A coat can be used by a very poor person as collateral for a loan (Deut 24:10-13). Jesus is saying that if someone is heartless enough to take the clothes off of your back, give them all of your clothes and be naked. Yes, nakedness was taboo in that culture, but it was more shaming for the people who viewed the nakedness than for the actual naked person.
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. – This refers to a Roman law that allowed Roman soldiers to force someone to carry all of their gear (65-85 pounds worth). There were severe penalties under military law for abusing this, the limit was one mile. If you were willing to go a second mile the Roman soldier would not know if you were insulting his strength, being kind, or were going to get him in trouble at the next stop.
Jesus is using examples of non-violent resistance that shame the oppressor and reclaims power for the oppressed. For a more in-depth exploration of this, please read Walter Wink’s excellent article found here.