Turning The Other Cheek:
The Law Of Non-Resistance
Matthew 5;38-42 38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
Introduction – Surfing The Big Waves
On Thursday evening Minda and I watched a PBS program about surfing the largest waves ever surfed. These giant waves were produced when a storm brewed up 40ft plus waves on north Oahu beaches on December 28th 1998. The height of a wave is measured from sea level so a 40ft wave has an 80ft “face” from trough to peak – as high as an eight to ten story building. On Wednesday 28th December 1998 12 surfers ventured out into the giant waves while everyone else stood on shore and watched, sure that they would be killed. An Imax film crew, which happened to be there, got a helicopter and went out and filmed the surfing for their movie Extreme – about extreme sports. The surfers were tiny little dots against the huge green rollers. They zigged and zagged across the front of the waves, zipping in and out of the tube formed by the breaking waves. There were several amazing tales of survival but amazingly no-one was injured or killed.
What those surfers illustrate is the Law of Non-Resistance at work. If those surfers had gone out there trying to fight the giant waves, they would have been killed. Instead they surfed them and enjoyed them and set world records for the biggest waves a human being has ever, ever surfed.
The surfers could have chosen three alternatives:
Flight: Run away, be sensible, stay on the beach. Don’t go in the water.
Fight: Go out there and take the waves on. Stand at the break and hit them with their fists.
Mastery: Use all their professional skill as surfers, and ride the waves!
Jesus does not want us to be caught up in fight or flight reactions but to move to spiritual mastery. Jesus wants us to move beyond our instinct for revenge and out of the raw, red-necked response to life and into the ability to “surf” life and master the biggest waves of all. We are to be spiritual people, not instinctual people.
Vendetta – An Eye For An Eye
Jesus starts off with: 38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
This was the old system of justice that involved exact retribution the law was:
Exodus 21:23-25 If there is an injury, then you must give life for life, (24) eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, (25) burn for burn, bruise for bruise, wound for wound.
This is often called the “lex talionis” or “law of retaliation”. It is what we instinctively want as justice and I have even seen animals seem to want this kind of retaliation when injured. It is basic and brutal. However as someone once said: “If it always and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, pretty soon the whole world is blind and toothless.”
Vendetta destroys societies such as Papua New Guinea, Sicily and the Middle East.
Jesus continues with verse 39: “But I tell you not to resist an evil person.”
Now what does this mean? Does it mean that policemen should not arrest drug dealers? Should we hand the keys to Fort Knox to burglars? Should we let terrorists run loose?
Not at all! This verse is not meant to be interpreted in such a literal fashion! Jesus is talking about inner resistance or spiritual resistance or reactivity.
Jesus is saying: “Do not let evil press your buttons. Do not fly into a rage. Do not get into a lather and desire to sue people or to take revenge, don’t let evil make you ugly and hateful and bitter and vengeful.”
The natural man is ensnared in the instinctive, adrenaline packed, fight-or-flight reaction. This reaction was very useful when we had to figure out what to do with a saber-toothed tiger – do we get our club and spear and fight it, or do we run and hide? At a sign of threat we produce lots of adrenalin, the blood goes to our extremities to help us run and fight and we react swiftly and instinctively to surrounding events.
This is fine if the house is on fire or we are in a war. But it is useless in normal everyday life where the threats are of a vastly different nature. If you go into a difficult committee meeting with your muscles tensed and your face red and with your teeth bared, you will not negotiate anything worthwhile.
When we go into the fight-or-flight reaction the blood goes away from the brain to the extremities and our thinking becomes unclear and we can make poor choices. There was a case of a man who killed his daughter when he thought a burglar was in the house and shot without thinking. Anger, rage and defensiveness cause dumb decisions and inflict much of our social harm.
The Christian alternative to the fight-or-flight reaction is personal mastery through non-resistance.
Mastery is the ability to use professional skill and wisdom to solve problems in creative and non-reactive ways. It involves taking the focus off the problem and onto the solution and then achieving that solution.
Say two people get a flat tire we will call one Problem-Focused Pete and the other Solution-Focused Sam:
Problem-Focused Pete – sees the problem, says “why did the nail get in my tire, what was the nail doing in the road, I am going to sue whoever left that nail here, now I am going to be late, I am calling my lawyer, soon Problem-focused Pete is yelling at the top of his lungs and abusing the car and the tire and the road and the nail manufacturer and is photographing the tyre and the nail and videoing everything for the court case and is still there six hours later collecting evidence and complaining loudly.
Solution-Focused Sam: Gets out the jack and the spanners and the spare tyre and uses his mechanical skill to change the tyre in under a minute and is back on the road in no time. He goes home and watches Problem-Focused Pete being arrested on TV for abusive behavior.
Jesus wants us to be like Solution-Focused Sam. He wants us to be calm, to be wise, to be professional and to be constructive solvers of life’s problems.
Another illustration- playing golf - two golfers, me and Tiger Woods, and we both hit our balls off the fairway into exactly the same patch of rough ground. There are three alternatives – fight, flight or mastery. Fight – I get a club and bash the ball as hard as I can to get it out of there. Flight – I take the penalty and drop the ball. Mastery – Tiger Woods waltzes up, sees exactly what needs to be done, visualizes the ball landing on the green, selects the right club and makes a perfect shot. I am looking at the problem – being stuck in the rough. Tiger Woods looks at the solution – how to get the ball onto the green.
Mastery comes from overcoming our instinctive fight-or-flight reaction and from being able to visualize and then implement a constructive solution in each of life’s trying circumstances. The Law of Non-Resistance involves not fleeing from the big wave, or fighting the big wave, but surfing the big wave in a masterful fashion.
Turning The Other Cheek
Jesus goes on to say: But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
Someone always says something like: “Does this mean that I cannot protect my wife from a rapist?”
Not at all! In fact you are duty bound by love to protect your wife in such a circumstance and you would be a coward not to do so. Turning the other cheek is not about war or self-defense. It is about minor personal provocation. It is about not letting an insult press all your buttons. It is about not flying into a retaliatory rage. Turning the other cheek is about not letting a provocative external action produce hate, rage and revenge in your heart. It is about mastering your fight or flight reaction.
A man protecting his wife or a soldier defending his country is not necessarily flying into a retaliatory rage, nor are they hatefully bent on vendetta or revenge. Hopefully they are acting out of protective love.
Jesus is always concerned about what is in your heart. Sometimes we can open up our hearts to rage and hatred and revenge because of some painful external circumstance. We get slapped on the cheek so we brood about it and plot personal revenge, our honor must be assuaged and so forth. This is spiritual poison.
Turning the other cheek involves absorbing evil and stopping the cycle of retaliation and revenge.
The Bible is always about maintaining a dynamic spiritual balance between love and wisdom, and between spirituality and practicality. For instance we are to honor our parents, but if our parents tell us not to believe in Jesus, we must disobey them, but even if have to disobey them as far as our faith goes, we should still support them financially. Or governments – in fact the Bible has seven completely different ways we should react to governments from revolution (as in Moses, Elijah, Elisha) to confrontation (Nathan and the prophets) to cooperation (Daniel, Joseph, and Paul) depending on the circumstances.
This applies to directives such as those we are looking at today:
- David would have been obviously wrong to turn the other cheek to Goliath.
- Paul specifically instructs both Timothy and the Thessalonians not to give money to people who a) should be out working or b) had dependents that could care for them.
- In Galatians a distinction is made between bearing one another’s burden’s and “each carrying their own load” of personal responsibility.
As we go on to look at the other directives we must do so in a balanced and wise way.
If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.
There is a time when legal action is pointless and it is simply better to “let them have the lot” than to spend years in court or to get an ulcer worrying about it. I have seen people who continually fret over every lie told by their opponent in court and whose whole life is totally consumed by the process of litigation. That is not the place of spiritual mastery.
There is a balance between being an easily exploited sucker and being fretful and litigious. There is a necessary proper assertiveness in today’s corporate world. When I was doing consultancy work I had to often threaten litigation in order to get my check. The policy of large corporations is to hold the money until threatened with a lawsuit, and then pay the bill. I was normally paid within 48 hours of saying I would sue. I never had to actually go to court. At first I was upset but I eventually just got used to the routine. There is no spiritual point at all in letting large corporations not pay their bills. Jesus is not advocating sucker-dom.
Jesus is talking about the sort of stuff that happens in small court cases where people fight tooth and nail over who gets the family dog. A few years ago someone was killed over a dispute over who got the computer. It is not worth a rage attack - just walk away and let them have it - it is not worth the grief. Show your noble side.
Many, many times I have lent money to someone and never seen it come back. Let it go, let them have it. If they need it that much they can keep it.
The lesson here is not to get hooked into petty battles over property and over “rights” and over defending every last piece of turf. There may be an appropriate time for legal action, but it has to be done calmly, properly and in the right spirit over something of true significance.
Going The Second Mile
And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.
Here I want to focus on how we can shame our enemies through our masterful super-natural reaction to their petty and nasty behavior.
The concept originated with the Persians who had messengers that could compel people to give them horses or to carry their loads. This was a government edict, the compulsion here is by a government or by an official of some kind. It is onerous, compulsory public service.
Instead of complaining and resenting and doing the bare minimum for the government messenger the Christian was to do double-duty. This had two effects. Firstly it would astonish the person and give occasion for Christian witness. Secondly it strengthens our inner nature and make us better people for bearing the load. People who continually complain and resent become weak and small-minded whereas people who go the second mile become strong and noble. This astonished the Jews of the first century who wrote about Christians:
"He, that is, Jesus, hath warned and commanded you to do no more evil to a Jew; but if a Jew should say to a Nazarene, go with me one mile, he shall go with him two miles; and if a Jew shall smite him on the left cheek, he shall turn to him also the right.''
Going the second mile is a very powerful witness to the strength of Christ within you. It is a sign of spiritual strength – not of weakness, it is exercising your spiritual will and not giving in to the natural man.
Going the second mile shows you are a different person to the rest of the world and indicates you are a person of love, of charity, of kindness and of high personal worth.
Going the second mile is appropriate when compelled to do so, and if the activity is morally neutral. Obviously we should not go the second mile in sin, dishonesty depravity or corruption.
Doing that “bit extra” is the sign of someone who truly cares about their work. Some students hand in the bare minimum, others give you a lot more than you asked for, guess who I recommend when people ask me for a reference?
Giving And Lending
Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
If your neighbor wants to borrow the electric drill, then lend it to her. If your friend needs the bus fare give it to him. If people need a small loan for a genuine purpose – then give it to them. Life is about who you become, not how much you own. When you are kind and generous you become a better person for it.
Later on the New Testament qualifies this to
eliminate laziness among Christians and people dumping their relatives on
the care of the Church. Three rules emerged:
a) People who are able to work must do so, and not depend on others.
b) People who can care for their relatives should do and not ask the Church to care for them.
c) The Christian life is not to involve, stealing, swindling or obtaining money under false pretences but constructive, creative work for a fair and honest wage.
However in normal life
we do “get stuck” from time to time. Often when people arrive in the USA life
is hard for the first couple of years. Or people are students or they have
some other circumstance that places them under genuine pressure. In such cases
we should be kind and help them. We should give them what they need without
lecturing them. We should use our power to help others – even if it sometimes
costs us a little bit. This sort of sacrifice pleases God:
Hebrews 13:16 Don't neglect to do good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.
The best thing we can give people is not money, but the “power to make wealth”.
Deuteronomy 8:18 but remember that the LORD your God gives you the power to gain wealth, in order to confirm His covenant He swore to your fathers, as it is today.
As the proverbs says: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. Not only do we need to give people money but we need to give them training, budgeting skills and small business and career skills.
Still if our friend asks for the bus fare – we give it to them.
Then there is the topic of “pan-handlers” and beggars. Those experienced in this area say NOT to give because it causes more harm than good. There are times I will give f I feel a prompt from the Lord. However I do not give out of guilt or manipulation. Generally I only give to people I know. This also applies to solicitation from Christian ministries and aid organizations. With modern media and email there are more requests than I have cash. I try and distinguish between genuine doing good and sharing and responding to a well-crafted sales pitch by a beggar or an aid organization.
That aside Christians should be noted for kindness, and generosity not penny-pinching parsimony under the name of false stewardship. We should treat others with dignity and respect and do to them, as we would like done to us, if we were in their shoes.
Would we like someone
to lend us $10? Then we should do that also.
Would we like someone to teach us to budget and to help us sort out our financial mess? Then we should do that also.
Would we like someone to lend us the electric drill so we can put up the curtains? We should do that also.
If people accidentally wreck things I lend them I put up with it, if they carelessly wreck things - then I give them a lecture and hope they offer to pay, if they deliberately wreck things then I would insist on payment I order to get them to grow up.
The Law of Non-Resistance teaches us to master our fight or flight reactions whether they be the urge to fight those who insult us or harass us, or to flee from those who demand something from us. By turning the other cheek and going the extra mile we will show the stuff we are made of as Christians and move to a much higher plane of spiritual living. This is of course to be balanced by love and wisdom and by other verses in Scripture. We cannot sacrifice other people’s welfare on the altar of super-spirituality.
What Jesus is calling for is for the sort of self-control and sacrifice that proves self-mastery and Christ’s presence within the person. We cannot react just like everyone else does. We should neither explode in vengeful anger or litigious in-fighting on one hand or withdraw from onerous civic responsibilities and personal obligations on the other.
Prayer of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument
of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life
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