Gallery C

Resolving Disputes
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Turning The Other Cheek

By James Donahue

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus put forth a lot of good advice to help us live peacefully with our neighbors. One of his most quoted passages is found in Matthew 5:39: “But I say unto you. That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Choosing not to resist when we are under attack goes against the grain of human behavior. Suppose some guy walks up and punches us in the face. Standing silent and giving our foe a chance for a second punch isn’t the smartest thing to do under the circumstances. A well-placed blow might land us in a hospital emergency room. Thus we really have one of two acceptable responses; we put up our dukes and punch back, or we call the police and file assault charges.

Indeed, pacifists use this verse to support their refusal to fight back, even against an enemy in wartime. But this does not appear to be what Jesus was really saying. The Bible also offers counter verses demanding reprisals. For example there is the well-known “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” found in the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. 

These verses, like the commandment to “turn the other cheek,” might best be confined to judicial decisions involving human conflict.

Indeed, if your neighbor tosses a rock through your window in a fit of anger, we are not obligated to toss a rock through his window in retaliation. A better and more peaceful way of resolving such a conflict would be to attempt to talk to the neighbor, find out what angered him enough to throw the rock, apologize for making him feel such hatred, and asking him to pay for replacing the window. This is a form of turning the other cheek.

A few years back my family and I lived next door to a family of undisciplined children who often did mean things to everybody around them. One boy in that household seemed to want to target our children by smashing their toys and taunting them whenever they were in the yard. One day I called that boy to me and asked him what was making him want to attack us. He didn’t have an answer. I told him that we loved him in spite of what he did. He walked away with a strange look on his face. He never bothered us after that.

There are ways to resolve domestic conflicts without physical assault, going to court or getting into angry shouting matches. To make them work, however, we need to learn to “turn the other cheek” and resist that temptation to respond in anger.