38 “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also”
The word here in Matthew should perhaps be translated better as ‘slap.’ We are not talking here about defending ourselves from violence; we are talking about assaults on our honor. The key to this is the reference to the ‘right cheek’. In order for a normally right-handed person to strike me on my right cheek he or she would have to strike me with the back of his or her hand. A backhanded slap in every culture is an insult, dismissing me as worthless – a not uncommon experience for peasants. Nor is it uncommon when enemy soldiers roam the land (or domestic soldiers serving an occupying enemy, Judean soldiers serving Rome! Collaborators!! The zealots wanted to knife them.).
What does it mean to stand up before someone who has slapped you down?
A slap on my right cheek can also be accomplished by a left-handed slap. It was a great offense in Israel to even put your left hand on the table when eating. The left hand was unclean. You used your left hand to wipe yourself. To extend the left hand, to touch someone with your left hand, was to treat them as dung. Again, a not uncommon experience of the poor, the peasants, the oppressed.
What does it mean to stand up before someone who has dismissed you as dung and insist that they slap your left cheek? To insist the treat you as an equal?! To offer them the opportunity to see you as a fellow human being? To offer them the opportunity to treat you with respect? To offer them the opportunity to be reconciled?
When Jesus says not to resist one who is evil, he doesn’t mean we do not resist evil – but that we resist it in a unique and radical way: not with revenge, but with the hope of reconciliation, the hope that enemies can be transformed into friends, the hope that in this one small place the world might be made new, that into this ruptured relationship, this broken piece of the world, the kingdom of God might dawn.