I’ve always paid extra close attention to the red letters in the Bible. They are the ones that record Jesus’ actual words. I try to visualize the context, and picture him saying the things that he does. I must admit though, some times his words seem hard to swallow. I am a huge advocator for owning a study Bible, because truly you benefit so much from having a ready made explanation right on the same page as the verse in question.
Case in point, Matthew 5:39, “But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.” Jesus said this. But doesn’t this seem entirely the opposite of logic? Do not resist an evil person? Really? I want an evil person as far away from me as possible! And, let them slap me a second time? Instincts wont even allow that – we’d duck, move or protect ourselves after one slap I’m sure.
Taking the time to assess the scriptures, and really try and understand what Jesus meant when he said all that he did truly helps especially in a situation like this.
We need to remember to look at things in context within the era they were said, and culture has certainly changed over the last 2000 years. For that matter, cultural changes can exist even from town to town, so clearly what was the norm in the 1st century Palestine is far from what’s considered normal today.
In Jesus’ time, the expression was “that was a slap on the cheek.” Today, my generation would say “that was a kick below the belt” or as they started saying when I was a teenager, and my oldest child has now learned “burrrrrn!” So the simple way to look at Jesus’ words here are “If someone burns you, let them burn you again.”
Still, this doesn’t seem to make sense – why would Jesus advocate for us to allow people to insult us?
Jesus knows the truth of who we are, he knows every part of our heart, even the parts we hide from others. So when someone ‘burns’ you, he knows the words of an evil person are meaningless. In a roundabout way, Jesus is telling us to ignore their words.
Why would we allow an awful person’s hurtful words to hurt our feelings? Easy to say, but not so easily to apply as I am sure everyone can think of a time someone else’s words crushed them.
But also, Jesus is reminding us that their words mean nothing – imagine for example someone who’s opinion you value calls you a worthless person, and you are hurt beyond belief. Jesus is trying to tell you that’s simply not true. Ignore that comment, and recognize its coming from a hurt person.
Healthy, productive people do not go around trying to hurt and belittle people (even when they have a legitimate issue with them.)
Jesus is trying to say “I know you already, and I know them too. I know they are hurt and their words are coming from a space of hurt, but I also know you, and I call you full of worth. I do not find your identity in what that person says of you, I find it in what I know to be true of you and therefore you can ignore their words, or turn the other cheek.”
I do not believe for one second that Jesus was meaning for us too allow ourselves to be abused ever but especially in this verse. I think its easy for someone to misunderstand this verse, especially when they don’t have the Holy Spirit guiding them as they read scripture, or when they are not sure of the entire context.
Jesus would never want to see anyone he loved enough to give his life for be abused or hurt, and I think that’s exactly why he gave us these words. He wants us to forgive hurt people instead of harbouring on their thoughts knowing they need perhaps more grace than we can imagine. He wants us to stand firm in our identity in him, rather than what mere people say about us.
Jesus wants us to not drink the poison that stewing, hatred and anger offer. He wants us to be full of grace and forgiveness which is why he modelled that for us. But he also wants us to call ourselves heirs to the throne, daughters and sons of God Almighty, perfectly and wonderfully made, made in His image and loved beyond our capacity to understand!
The next time someone burns you, let it go. Remember normal healthy people don’t destroy others. They need your grace more than your anger. Most importantly, remember who you are in Christ, that is where your true identity comes from! No one’s words can ever take that away from you.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33, NIV.