Summary: The Sermon on the Mount is an invitation – to taste and see this God, to join his club and deepen his kind of life skills.
Turning the Other Cheek
I’ve been trying to figure out a realistic application for turning the other cheek ever since as a young person a mentor of mine once pointed out to that to teach his son this attitude was a license to getting him bullied at school. No way am I going to encourage my son to get beaten on the premise that that’s what Jesus wants was more like what he said.
As we look at this passage it is good to remember that the Bible is a record of how God communicated and dealt with human civilization as it developed. That to take out any verse written to a culture of 2000 or 4000 years ago and seek to enforce it on all people today may sometimes be more an abuse of the Bible than its intended use. As such I don’t think all of the Bible is written to be directly applied to children, but more to understanding adults, who will then appropriately filter these truths down to their children in culturally appropriate ways.
Progress - Yes
It’s also good to remember that the Bible records the progression of God’s self revelation as human history advances. Genesis records a number of positive commands and one prohibition. It’s not till much, much later that a detailed legal system is presented through Moses to God’s people.
The concept of an eye for an eye is detailed not so much to encourage vindictiveness but to control excessive vendettas and to establish fair justice.
2000 years after the concept of an eye for an eye is well and truly established Jesus appears with the next breakthrough, not just fair justice but a mind-boggling forgiveness where the victim willingly goes a second mile on behalf of the antagonist.
Personally I think the biblical development can be played out in the development of children as well. Initially a basic invitation to explore and develop with minimal boundaries and consequences outlined. As they gain a little more life experience a more complex system of rules, fairness, consequences and punishments can be introduced. Once the concept of fairness and justice has been established then would be a good time (maybe in late adolescence) to challenge them with the concept of turning the other cheek.
Which brings us to the issue of us adults; the intended audience to whom Jesus addressed these concepts. Did Jesus really expect us to live by this principle in all seriousness or is it meant to be one of those nice religious sayings that people like to quote but of course no one actually expects to apply.
Possible – Perfectionism – Legalism
We could have immediately shot this off to the oblivion of religious nicety if it wasn’t for some people who just had to go and live by it.
Ravi Zacharias relates the story of a man who leaves his wife for a woman overseas creating much hardship for the wife and children that he abandons. Years later the wife is shocked to find the man writing to her, informing her that he is dying of cancer and demanding that as a Christian she look after his new wife and child. The real shock of the story is that she actually considered his request seriously. Furthermore unable to financially take care of his second family she offers to sponsor them across to the US and help them to find their own financial feet.
It’s not that it is impossible to live by turning the other cheek or walking the second mile, it is just that it’s not possible to maintain the quality of life we are used to and take as our birthright, while living this way.
If we allowed every person who wronged us or cheated us or attacked us to get away with it we would rapidly throw away our quality of life not to mention encouraging gross wrongdoing.
But considering the fact that living in this manner is possible, to go the next step and make it a requirement for all Christians, to insist on perfection and become legalistic about it’s application is to do exactly the opposite of what Jesus intended. His messages constantly highlight the moral bankruptcy of the legalistic righteousness of the Religious leaders. They kept external religious requirements down to the letter but completely missed the relational care that the rules were introduced for. This is what Jesus means when he says that our righteousness needs to exceed that of the Pharisees. Further when Christians tend to legalistically demand each other to turn the other cheek the church is certain to head for hurt and even abuse.
(Now if we think of all the possible applications of this: divorce, bad business deals, shoddy workmanship, neighbourhood disputes, defamation, discrimination – the list could go on) Society as we know it could not function. We would be encouraging malpractice and abuse. All the things we value and cherish as a society would be trampled in a one way dash for power and greed. This is not a workable social ethic.