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Nonviolence Playlets - compiled by Walter Wink - page 12 / 29





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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"

(Matt. 5:39b).

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

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