India honours Mahatma Gandhi as the Father of the nation.
The New Testament made a great impression on him, especially the Sermon on the Mount, which went straight to his heart.
He would say to one of his disciples:
“The gentle figure of Christ…
… so patient, so kind, so loving, so full of forgiveness that He taught His followers not to retaliate when abused or struck, but to turn the other cheek…
>> I thought it was a beautiful example of the perfect man…!”
“The message of Jesus as I understand it,” said Gandhi, “is contained in the Sermon on the Mount unadulterated and taken as a whole…
The Gospel of the Day presents this lofty teaching of Jesus on non-retaliation and the power of forgiving love.
It is significant to read that in this Passage of the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus is instructing some of the core personal tasks that has to be taken up by each individual Christian.
• The Sermon on the Mount makes a personal obligation on each Christian
It is worth meditating and reflecting on each line of this Great Sermon, and examining to what extent am I living this lofty and powerful teaching of the Lord in my life.
One of the highly debatable and confusing teachings of Jesus is contained in today’s Gospel reading.
Jesus says, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the one cheek, turn to him the other also” (Mt 5: 39)
This verse could easily raise a lot of doubts and questions…
• Did Jesus mean that Christian should be passive to evil?
• Did Jesus teach that we should suffer unnecessarily in the face of social evils?
• Did Jesus teach passivity and being lethargic when one encounters wickedness and evil?
The one direct answer to all such doubts is seen in the light of the life of Jesus Himself…
• He was always actively against evil and sinful activities
• He was a constant opponent to oppression, condemnation and human wickedness
Then what would have Jesus meant by those strong phrases of “resist evil.. and turning one’s cheeks?”
There could be, speaking in general terms, three responses to evil:
1. Opposing with violence
2. Bearing everything passively
3. A courageous non-violence
The first two responses are also popularly called as Fight or Flight
…either FIGHT against the evil… or take FLIGHT from the evil situations
>> FIGHT: oppose with evil and violence
>> FLIGHT: run away from the situation or passively be submissive
But the way of Jesus is a higher one…
… a much higher and bolder one: the way of ACTIVE NON-VIOLENCE.
The Greek word that is used by St Mathew, for “resist” is “antisthemi”
‘Antisthemi’ is not a passive or a weak term.
>> It was a classical Greek ‘military’ term.
… to take a stand against, to oppose or to resist
… to establish one’s position publicly by conspicuously “holding one’s ground,”.
… It means refusing to be moved (” being pushed back”)
This clearly shows that “to resist evil” is not merely a passive act of submission…
… rather is a firm, courageous and bold action of holding onto one’s convictions of truth and opposing every reaction to subdue truth.
This is further illustrated in the example that Jesus gives, “of turning one’s cheek, when hit on the right cheek”
In the culture of Jesus, the left hand was commonly used for unclean tasks, and only the right hand was considered appropriate for such actions as striking another person.
Now, its common sense to note, that if one hits with the right hand, it would hit the other person only on the “left” cheek.
Therefore, if the person is hit on the “right” cheek, as in the example of Jesus, it simply means, that one was hit with a “back-hand”.
What is the significance of a back-handed slap?
A backhanded slap, had a greater message than merely hurting or causing pain…
>> Instead, it meant to be an act of “severe” humiliation… of “terrible” insult!
A backhand slap, in the time of Jesus, was the usual way of admonishing inferiors:
>> Masters backhanded slaves; husbands, wives; parents, children; men, women; Romans, Jews.
What is the response that Jesus suggests for such an act of dreadful humiliation?
Not Fight… Not Flight.
>> Rather, a strong and bravely opposing act of courage: “turn the other cheek as well!”
It is a calculated response intended to invite the aggressor to consider his or her actions.
This bold action of turning one’s cheek robs the oppressor of the power to humiliate.
It is as if the oppressed person is saying,
“Try again if you want, buddy!
Your first blow failed to achieve its intended effect.
I deny you any power to humiliate me!”
This was how our Blessed Lord who gave this supremely lofty teaching demonstrated in His life… by dying on the Cross!
• The Cross was a powerful opposition to evil and sin.
The One who died on the Cross did not die a passive death…
Rather, He boldly preached against every act of oppression and mightily spoke against every form of discrimination!
As Christians, we need to be bold and courageous to “resist” every evil and sinful deed.
In Christ, we have a teaching that is not passive, but is “extremely” active and powerful.
To merely FIGHT or simply make a FLIGHT in the face of oppressions, is cheap and ordinary…
In fact, it is “no spirituality”.
But to “be bold in one’s convictions” and “to oppose” evil, even to the point of giving up one’s life, is a lofty, supreme and mighty spirituality.
• Jesus embodied this spirituality.
• Many great men and women in history have been inspired by it and lived it.
As Christians, the followers of the Bold Jesus, are we ready to embrace this “powerful” spirituality?
God Bless! Live Jesus!