The TIME magazine, in its declaration of Jesus, as the Man of the Millennium, proclaimed:
“The single most powerful figure – not merely in these two millenniums but in all human history – has been Jesus of Nazareth…
… a serious argument can be made that no one else’s life has proved remotely as powerful and enduring as that of Jesus.”
One of the reasons for this Massive Influence of Jesus, was His uncompromising and ever-bold attitude with respect to sin, evil and living a life of total love!
The Gospel of the Day presents this lofty teaching of Jesus on non-retaliation and the power of forgiving love.
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 a 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?
>> Let us become…. Agents and Ambassadors of true love…destroying evil forces with goodness!
God Bless! Live Jesus!
Quotable-quote-a-day-with-St Francis de Sales (SFS) –”Nothing is so strong as gentleness…
… nothing so gentle as real strength!”