Jesus Did Not Say That We Must Be Doormats


If there is one area in which Jesus is seriously misunderstood, it is in the area of humility. “But,” you say, “Jesus even said He was humble in heart.” Yes, He did and He was but He was also no push-over. But what about His instruction to “turn the other cheek” and “go the second mile”? Didn’t He mean that we must not resist those who wipe their feet in us? It would seem like it at face value. But, once again, we must read His words from a Hebraic perspective.

You have heard that it was said, ’Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. (Matt. 5: 38-41)

Before we are offended by the thought that Jesus permits people to treat us how they like, there is another side to this issue which will bring balance to Jesus’s words. For a third way of responding to injustice, the New Testament scholar, Walter Wink, in his books, Engaging the Powers and The Powers that Be, suggests the following explanation of Jesus’s words:

Jesus specifically stated that, if one is struck on the right cheek, he is to turn the other cheek. There are two ways to strike a person on the right cheek – a backhanded slap with the right hand or a flat-handed slap with the left hand. In the culture of that day, one did not slap another with the left hand because it was used for “unclean” purposes. To receive a left-handed slap was the height of insult. A backhanded blow was the way a superior treated an inferior. Either way, Jesus implied that a superior was beating an inferior.

Jesus came down hard on the Pharisees because they thought they were better than other people. He taught His disciples never to despise other people or think themselves better. His yoke was humility – viewing themselves in their rightful place in God’s world. However, at the same time, He did not allow socially inferior people to be treated with contempt.

A non-violent way to protest such treatment would be to “turn the other cheek”, forcing the assailant either to stop the abuse, or to recognise that the one he treated unfairly was really his equal. The only way he could continue beating him was to admit that they were equals.

The following two examples emphasize the same point.

A Roman soldier was permitted to force a civilian to carry his pack for one mile. To prevent abuse, more than one mile was prohibited. Jesus advocated that, rather than to protest or refuse, the soldier be put in a difficult situation by carrying his pack for two. He would be forced to take it from you or face retribution, making him appear like the oppressor.

It was lawful to confiscate a peasant’s tunic for non-payment of debt. His only other garment was his cloak which doubled as a blanket at night. If he gave away his cloak as well, he would be left naked and cold. Jesus said, “Give him your cloak,” which would force his creditor to leave the peasant naked. Nakedness was not a sin but to look at a naked person was regarded as sinful. Hence the poor person would expect to be treated with dignity and mercy. cheek.html (from the article, “The True Meaning of Turn the Other Cheek”, by Marcus Borg, retrieved March 2015)

I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus’ words in Luke 6:30b-31.

No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. ‘Here is a simple rule-of-thumb for behaviour: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative ad do it for them.’ 

I think there is humour in Jesus’ words. Can you imagine the reaction of someone who acts aggressively towards you; say, a Roman soldier who grabs you by the scruff of the neck and demands, “Carry my pack!” Instead of protesting and resisting, you pick it up cheerfully and whistle a merry tune while you tote his pack for a mile. Then, instead of dumping it down and skipping the scene, you carry on walking and whistling as though you don’t have a care in the world. What would he make of that? Wouldn’t he think twice about doing it to you again in case you got him into trouble for abuse?

Or what about someone to whom you owe money? When he demands your cloak, you strip and hand him your tunic as well. How embarrassed and ashamed he would be to see you standing stark naked before him. He would quickly return your clothes lest he be blamed for your nakedness!

The bottom line it, don’t put yourself above other people and don’t allow others to put you down if you happen to be on a different social or economic level from them. In God’s eyes we all stand on level ground.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Have you read my first book, Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart (Copyright © 2015, Partridge Publishing)? You’ll love it!

ISBN: Softcover – 978-1-4828-0512-3,                                                                              eBook 978-4828-0511-6

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