What it Means to Turn the Other Cheek

Letting It Go is Not a Sign of Weakness

Worshipers pray the rosary at a Catholic church in Baghdad, Iraq. (Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images)
Photo by Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images

The idea of turning the other cheek is found in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Jesus believed in mercy, sacrificial love, and that the least of us is the most. Turning the other cheek is not about pacifism or putting ourselves in danger. It's not about letting another person get away with something…it's about preventing a cycle of revenge and retaliation. Turning the other cheek requires a lot of strength that can only come from God.

What's Not Obvious in the Saying

When we look closer at the Bible, Jesus says when we're hit on the right cheek to then offer up our left. To be hit on the right cheek means we were most likely subjected to a backhanded slap, and a backhanded slap can be considered an insult that goads us into retaliation. However, Jesus wasn't necessarily talking about a physical confrontation. Instead, he was describing how to respond to insults. He didn't necessarily mean we should allow ourselves to get beaten up or fail to protect ourselves from physical harm. When people hurt us in some way, we often feel shame or anger that push us to lash back out. Jesus was reminding us to set that humiliation and ire aside so that we don't immediately make things worse.

Think About Why They're Hurting You

In the moment, your thoughts probably aren't on why the person is hurting you. This is why it's important to think about these types of things now and make them part of you. A person who lashes out often has a lot of pain inside of them. They think less of themselves, so they insult and harm others. They are trying to make themselves feel better. That doesn't make what they're doing right, but having an understanding that the aggressor is a person, too, will help you make better decisions in the moment. That little though creeps in and becomes the little voice in our heads when we're attacked.

Turning the Other Cheek Takes Serious Strength

We are often taught today that we have to respond insult-for-insult, hurt-for-hurt. Bullying is a serious situation, but we have to be smart and spiritual in our responses. Turning the other cheek does not mean that we just take an insult and walk away, but that we have spiritual strength to make good decisions about it. Instead of allowing the bully to push us into depression, physical fights, or revenge schemes, we should deal with it responsibly. We should turn to those that can help. When someone yells insults at us and calls us names, shrugging it off shows greater strength than yelling insults back. Responding with dignity opens the door of respect. We must put aside our need to save face when it comes to our peers. It is God we have to please in this situation. It is God's opinion that matters. It's hard, because no one likes to be disrespected, but showing dignity in trying times is the only way to break a dysfunctional cycle. It is the only way to create real change in the world. It is the only way to break down barriers.

We're a Reflection of God

There is nothing worse that being a hypocritical Christian. If people know you are a Christian and they see you fighting or hurling insults at others, what will they think of God? When Jesus was on the cross, He forgave those who placed Him up there to die. It would have been easy for Him to hate his aggressors. Yet he forgave them. He died on the cross with dignity. When we act dignified in undignified moments of our lives, we earn the respect of others, and they see a reflection of God in our actions.