Jesus on Nonviolence
1. Turn the other Cheek
Need 2 males. We will demonstrate Matthew 5:39. Narrator guides them
through the various blows.
Text: "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also"
Background: You are probably imagining a blow with the right fist. But
such a blow would fall on the left cheek. To hit the right cheek with a
fist would require the left hand. But the left hand could be used only
for unclean tasks; at Qumran, a Jewish religious community of Jesus'
day, to gesture with the left hand meant exclusion from the meeting and
penance for ten days. To grasp this you must physically try it: how
would you hit the other's right cheek with your right hand? If you have
tried it, you will know: the only feasible blow is a backhand.
The backhand was not a blow to injure, but to insult, humiliate,
degrade. It was not administered to an equal, but to an inferior.
Masters backhanded slaves; husbands, wives; parents, children; Romans,
Jews. The whole point of the blow was to force someone who was out of
line back into his or her place.
Notice Jesus' audience: "If anyone strikes you." These are people used
to being thus degraded. He is saying to them, "Refuse to accept this
kind of treatment anymore. If they backhand you, turn the other
cheek." (Now you really need to physically enact this to see the
problem.) By turning the cheek, the servant makes it impossible for the
master to use the backhand again: his nose is in the way. And anyway,
it's like telling a joke twice; if it didn't work the first time, it
simply won't work. The left cheek now offers a perfect target for a
blow with the right fist; but only equals fought with fists, as we know
from Jewish sources, and the last thing the master wishes to do is to
establish this underling's equality. This act of defiance renders the
master incapable of asserting his dominance in this relationship. He
can have the slave beaten, but he can no longer cow him.
Such defiance is no way to avoid trouble. Meek acquiescence is what
the master wants. Such "cheeky" behavior may call down a flogging, or
worse. But the point has been made. The Powers That Be have lost their
power to make people submit. And when large numbers begin behaving thus
(and Jesus was addressing a crowd), you have a social revolution on your
In that world of honor and shaming, the "superior" has been rendered
impotent to instill shame in a subordinate. He has been stripped of his
power to dehumanize the other. As Gandhi taught, "The first principle
of nonviolent action is that of noncooperation with everything