‘Turn the other cheek also’
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Those words are attributed to Jesus in the profound scene of his crucifixion, as he endures his final moments. This expression is at the core of Christian theology. Even so, the idea of forgiveness is elusive to understand, and by all indications, exceedingly difficult to live out.
The way some tell it, forgiveness is offered to those who don’t realize what they are doing. They can be excused as not knowing any better. If someone intentionally hurts you, they argue, all bets are off, and retribution becomes the rule. Some call upon an ancient motto of an eye-for-an-eye. In doing so, they turn a literal blind eye to the scriptural context.
The world was spiraling into a vortex of vengeful blood-lust. We are instructed to stop upping the ante.
Jesus went further. “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39). Far from encouraging us to become a doormat, the instruction intends us to be revealing. By turning the other cheek, we confront the willful act of another who has hurt us. We acknowledge what has happened, are clear about the wound and pain, yet seek to transform the relationship. It is not easy. We prefer to draw into a defensive shell, or to demonize the other person. But I say I am a Christian, a person who trusts this Jesus — what he does, what he says and how he says I am to live. I can do no less.
So then, as I look around me in our world, and in my encounters with others, forgiveness is meant to be my watch-word. Forgiveness is the example I have from Jesus, and the instruction he has for me. Indeed, being forgiven and offering forgiveness are inextricably fused, as we share in our Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our trespasses/sins/debts as we forgive those who have trespassed/sinned/are indebted to us.”
Perhaps there is a reverse paradox in this as well. As I forgive others, I experience grace at work, transforming me as much as anyone else. I encounter the power of God’s forgiveness and recognize more fully my own need for it. Jesus gave his life to make forgiveness real. May it define our lives and transform us all.
Rev. Michael Kendall is lead pastor at Farmville United Methodist Church. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.