The Other Cheek, Shirt, and Extra Mile
We are called to love and forgive people who hurt us, no matter what. No matter what? Does the Bible actually say that? Did Jesus actually say that? Are we actually supposed to live that way?
(before you skip all the way down to add your comments, please keep reading)
How many times?
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! (Matthew 18:21, 22 NLT)
Some translations of this Scripture read 70 times 70. However, the point isn’t to provide an exact number, Jesus was addressing Peter’s cultural question. At that time, Jews were taught to forgive someone up to 7 times. Jesus says, 7 is nowhere near enough! However, it does not mean we allow people to mistreat us. It can be appropriate to create clear boundaries – stating that a particular behavior is not acceptable. This mean simply being clear about acceptable behavior. Something like this:
“I love you, and when you behave in this manner, I cannot be part of it.”
This requires tremendous discipline to continuously reach out to the other person and confirm your love for them through your actions as well as your words, all while maintaining an appropriate distance to keep yourself safe from physical or emotional abuse if that’s what’s going on.
Not a Doormat and Not Striking Back
“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. (Matthew 5:38-41 NLT)
In these verses, we read about someone being struck on the right cheek. This is an insult – not just getting hit. The right cheek is struck with a backhand – it’s telling someone they are lower than you are. Offering someone your left cheek means that you demand to be treated properly. Striking someone on the left with a forehand is something done between equals. You don’t strike back, you simply say, your insult is not acceptable behavior.
Coat and Shirt
People in the time of Jesus wore two articles of clothing – the coat – outer garment, and the tunic (shirt) – inner garment. To a Jew at the time of Christ, it was a worse sin to see someone naked than to be naked. So, when you give someone your shirt after they take your coat, you’re saying, “if you’re going to take that from me, you’re going to be in a worse situation than I am.”
The Extra Mile
Also, at the time Christ spoke these words, a Roman soldier could give his pack to someone and make them carry it one mile out of the city or town. Each mile was marked on the road – just like our highways today. This is where we get the expression about going the extra mile. It’s not just being good to someone you like, it’s about being good to someone who treats you poorly.
A Different Standard
This appears similarly in Luke:
This is what I say to all who will listen to me:
Love your enemies, and be good to everyone who hates you.
Ask God to bless anyone who curses you, and pray for everyone who is cruel to you.
If someone slaps you on one cheek, don’t stop that person from slapping you on the other cheek. If someone wants to take your coat, don’t try to keep back your shirt.
Give to everyone who asks and don’t ask people to return what they have taken from you.
Treat others just as you want to be treated.
If you love only someone who loves you, will God praise you for that? Even sinners love people who love them.
If you are kind only to someone who is kind to you, will God be pleased with you for that? Even sinners are kind to people who are kind to them.
Luke 6:27-33 (CEV)
Finally – note how those verses show we, Christians, are called to a higher standard of love than other people. We are supposed to act in loving ways toward people even when they are cruel to us. However, we are not called to be the doormats of the world. It’s not just our behavior of course, it’s our hearts and minds that God wants.
Don’t be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him.
Romans 12:2 (CEV)
After all, that’s our focus – to please God.
Now that you’ve read the whole post, go ahead, add your comments. Please note that I’m hopefully explaining the culture that provides the context in which these things were said. Hopefully, you get that part about not being a doormat. Hopefully, you get that I’m just some guy, trying to figure this stuff out too.