Poor Sunny. He’s your typical, sensitive Golden Retriever and his world goes to pieces if he thinks someone is mad at him. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know what to make of the wild-looking, woolly beast on the other side of the fence who’s staring him down like dinner. Considering Sunny is supposed to be the predator, the table looks turned. Of course, our sweet Josie (the Valais-cross ewe) is as gentle as…well, a lamb. She has no intention of running Sunny down. Just the same, Sunny’s face expresses a meekness that promotes peace and reconciliation. I think it’s the human equivalent of when an aggressor approaches and we throw our hands in the air and shout, “I don’t want any trouble!”
Trouble. Who needs it? No one. Who has it? Almost everyone, especially when it comes to relationships. Factor in divisive politics, stressful holidays, and the stuff of everyday life, and it seems like there's always someone ready to rumble.
I don’t know about you, but there have been people in my life who appear to be just like our Josie…their hair is standing straight up, their horns are locked and loaded, and for some reason I can’t understand or accept, I’m in their cross-hairs, on purpose or not. Let’s unpack that one for a minute. Granted, some people just have an innate need to charge the fence and create mayhem for others. Pride, the quest for power, the need to control. They’re all part of our fallen human nature. Most of us try to check those temptations at the gate and strive for peaceful coexistence. Other times, we actually have a dog in the fight and contribute to rising tensions. Either way, what is one to do when trouble—or a troublemaker—comes to call?
I think the Bible is pretty clear on this. So is Sunny’s face.
We turn the other cheek.
I know, I hear you! I often sputter and shake my head at the thought…How can I possibly? Or, she started it! Or, what he did was wrong, indefensible, unforgivable! All that may be so, and yet the command is clear. The call to turn the other cheek comes directly from Matthew 5:38-40, in the context of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (and again in Luke 6:29):
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your cloak as well.”
To be clear, Jesus wasn’t advocating that we turn a blind eye to persecution, wrongdoing, or evil acts. He wasn’t suggesting that people can do whatever immoral things they want to us or to others. What He was advocating for was faith and confidence that God is in control; that ultimately, He will handle things in ways that will make our own attempts to defend ourselves or to retaliate pale (or fail!) by comparison. He bids us to break the cycle of violence and evil rather than to perpetuate it. He exhorts us to speak the truth in love.
Think of Joseph (Genesis 37), whose older brothers, in a fit of jealously plotted to toss him into a pit to die, but then thought better of it and sold him into slavery to Egyptian traders. But God’s favor was upon Joseph, who many years later was promoted to be Pharoah’s trusted right-hand man and keeper of the vast stores of grain in a time of famine. His careful oversight and preparation saved many people from dying of hunger. When his own brothers came to Egypt to beg for provisions, Joseph was in a position to crush them—or forgive them. He chose to turn the other cheek and said: “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20). He spoke kindly and lavished food upon them to carry back to their families. After some soul-searching, Joseph could speak and act with that merciful perspective because time had proven God’s sovereign goodness over evil deeds.
Ditto for King David, who was relentlessly pursued by a murderous King Saul out of envy for David’s military prowess and wild popularity. But David, even when handed a golden opportunity to kill King Saul (1 Samuel 24), merely cut off the corner of Saul’s robe as proof that he had chosen to turn the other cheek and leave retribution to the hand of God. And God did not disappoint, arranging things so as to legitimately elevate David to the throne, fulfilling His promise that the Messiah would spring forth from King David’s bloodline.
Last but not least, we think of Jesus himself, who was slapped in the face by an official of the high priest in the courtyard after His arrest (John 18:19-24). Scripture tells us that even the Son of God didn’t resist the assaults against Him. He either remained as meek and silent as a lamb or simply spoke the truth in love. Once again, God did not disappoint; He raised Jesus from the dead where he sits at His Father’s right hand and will come again in glory—and in judgement.
In the meantime, let’s consider that most of our worldly problems and troubled relationships warrant the turning of our cheek, not the brandishing of our horns. Jesus himself tells us: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." (Luke 6:27)
This includes praying for the wild-looking, woolly beasts on the other side of the fence who are staring us down. The great irony is that we can turn the other cheek and yet triumph over our foes, for we know that standing our ground means something entirely different to the Christian warrior…It means that we can or will someday say, as Joseph said to his brothers, "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good."
Take heart, friends of God. The King is coming and it's His pleasure and good will to lift up those whom the world has put down. Joseph. David. Jesus. You. And me. Therefore:
Do not say,"I will repay evil"; wait for the Lord, and He will save you.
~ Proverbs 20:22