Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Turn the other cheek

Although I eventually caught up, I was always one of the smallest in my class in grammar school.  Partially because of that I was a target for bullies.  We used to walk about a mile home from school and sometimes I would get pushed around by larger and older kids.  One day, as this was happening, my Dad's car pulled up, he jumped out, and gave a tongue lashing to the bully. I don't remember my Dad and I speaking of it and I don't remember being picked on again.

My only fight ever in school happened a couple of years later when I stood up for a classmate who was repeatedly picked on by the class bully.  The kid was what we would now call a nerd, he didn't stand a chance.  The bully had issues, and to make himself bigger in his own eye and in the eyes of the other kids he would pick on this nerd on a regular basis.  One day I had enough and told him to stop.  That lead to a short fight between us that was more wrestling match than fight.  I'm sure he had the best of it, and I'm ashamed to say I don't know how the nerd made out after that, but I gained the respect of the bully and my classmates.

At the same time, I was being taught in church and school to "turn the other cheek", to choose non violence.
To this day Gandhi, King and Jesus are my heroes.

This has caused me internal ethical conflict, and I wonder if others feel the same.

Then I heard an explanation that helped.
The Gospel of Matthew says,
 "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

At the time of Jesus, indeed even today in some parts of the world, only the right hand would be used to strike someone because the left hand was used for unclean purposes.  So, striking someone on the right cheek would require a strike with the back of the hand.  At that time striking someone deemed to be of a lower class with the back of the hand was used to assert authority and dominance.  Today, we use the remark, "I'll give you a backhand" and "backhanded compliment" to mean much the same thing. 

So, if after being struck in such a demeaning manner, the victim then turned and offered the other cheek, he would force the offender to strike with the open right hand, because using the left hand was forbidden.  However, sticking with the open hand was something that was done as a challenge or a punch and was seen as a statement of equality.
Thus, by turning the other cheek the persecuted was in effect demanding equality.

When seen in this way, "turn the other cheek" is far from a passive, submissive statement, it is a statement to demand respect and fair treatment in a nonviolent way.
When I study the lives of Gandhi and King it is obvious that they understood it in this way.
When I study the life of Jesus it is obvious that he believed in nonviolence, but he equally believed in the dignity of each person, and he was far from passive, he challenged authority and he challenged their thinking and way of acting.

So, in this light, the actions of my Dad and the lessons I learned are consistent with what I was taught. 
Violence is to be avoided, conflict is not. 
It is noble to stand up against that which denies dignity and respect and fairness but it is just as important how you do it.
I like to think that I follow these giants down the path they blazed and that I will do my part. When it is my turn, I plan to stand firm when struck and turn the other cheek. I pray I have the strength to do so.


2486c226-4f62-11e1-a0dd-000bcdcb2996 said...
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john said...
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