Sundays with CWM (20 Feb): Re-reading turning the other cheek

by CWM Communications Team

World Day of Social Justice

Luke 6: 27- 29

In the Old Testament, there is a strong understanding that justice is paying back what is fair and square. If one was to do violence unto you, then violence must be done unto them, an eye for an eye. The Old Testament laws focuses on “retributive justice. “ You can find examples of this in Deuteronomy 19:21, Exodus 21:22-25 and Leviticus 24:19-20. These biblical old testament laws was the norm during that time. However in Luke 6: 27-38, Jesus challenged these norms and laws. Jesus focused on what Walter Wink describes as “Doormat theology”. Often this interpretation is taken in the wrong direction and allows readers to be walked over like a “doormat”. Each verse consists of instructions of how we should respond injustice and abuse of power and violence but this reflection will be focusing on the “turning of the other cheek” found in verse 29. Let us dig deeper into the socio-economic cultural context of that time for a broader understanding.

It is important to note that the left hand was only used for “dirty jobs” such as cleaning the posterior. It was not used for any other purposes, not even to slap another. Therefore, upon slapping someone, only the right hand can be used and there are two ways of slapping with the right hand. The closed fist slap/using the open palm and right back hand slap.

The closed fist strike/slap is only used between people who are of equal status. For example, when a King strikes a king, or a slave master strikes another slave master etc. This is an indication that the striker is of equal power to the person he or she was striking.

The second type of slap which is the right backhand slap is done when someone who is perceived to be superior in status is striking someone who is inferior, a master striking a slave, a king striking his subjects, a husband striking his wife, a mother striking her child. The right backhand slap was purposely designed to inflict shame and humiliation to the one that was struck, to show who’s boss and to put the one being struck back in his or her place.

If we study Jesus’s movements and the people he associated himself with, it is very clear that the people who spent the most time with Him are people who are more likely to be the ones who are seen as inferior in their communities. Therefore, culturally speaking, if these people were to be slapped, it would be by the right backhand slap and would hit directly on their right cheek. Then Jesus said “offer the other one also” which is the left cheek.

The only other way to slap someone’s left cheek with their right hand is to use the open fist slap which automatically balances the level of status and power between the person slapping and the person getting slapped. Here Jesus portrays a whole new idea of responding to violence with non-violence by devising a way for the victim to take control of the situation and deprive the striker of the power to strike again. The striker will be in a dilemma and a awkward situation of deciding whether or not to strike the left cheek and release their frustration at the expense of their superiority and power.

Of course , in our current context where these Jewish cultures do not apply to all of us, we must not take this reading literally. However follow in the examples of Jesus of not conforming to the traditional way of reacting to violence with more violence. Jesus’s teaching is about power dynamics in society. Jesus emphasized how to subvert power and so that the powerful are rendered without power to control, manipulate and abuse their fellow human beings. Violence does not have to be the reaction to violence, evil does not have to be the reaction to evil, injustice does not have to be the result to injustice. We, as followers of Christ must know to take these situations of violence, evil and injustice and use the, as opportunities for empowerment and peace.

-Timasi Bird, United Church in the Solomon Islands


Citizens of the Solomon Islands who feel unrecognized, unheard and unseen by their Government thus resulting in rioting, looting and burning of their capital city Honiara. Pray for injustice to not be met with injustice, evil with evil.

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