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In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus delivers a series of teachings that challenge the conventional wisdom of His time—and indeed, of our own time. Among these, the command to "turn the other cheek" when struck stands out for its radical approach to conflict and justice. In Matthew 5:39, Jesus says, "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."

For many, this command is perplexing, even troubling. We are taught from a young age to stand up for ourselves, to defend our honor and integrity. The idea of turning the other cheek seems to go against our instincts and the advice we've received throughout our lives.

To understand this teaching, we must first acknowledge the context in which Jesus spoke. He was addressing a diverse audience, including Pharisees, Sadducees, and common folk, all familiar with the law of "an eye for an eye," as found in Exodus 21:24-25, Leviticus 24:19-20, and Deuteronomy 19:21. This law was intended to ensure justice by limiting retaliation to an equivalent harm.

However, Jesus' message in Matthew 5:38-42 calls His followers to a higher standard:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and 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. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."

The Power of Non-Retaliation

At first glance, Jesus' command seems to suggest passivity in the face of injustice. However, a closer examination reveals a strategy of non-violent resistance and the reclaiming of personal dignity. By turning the other cheek, the victim is not submitting to further abuse but is instead asserting their equality and humanity in a confrontational yet peaceful manner.

The Slap on the Cheek

In first-century Jewish culture, a slap to the right cheek by a superior was typically a backhanded slap, a gesture of humiliation rather than physical injury. By turning the other cheek, the victim forces the aggressor to consider striking again, but this time with an open hand, acknowledging equality, or not at all. This act subtly undermines the aggressor's authority and exposes the unjust nature of their action.

Going the Extra Mile

Jesus also speaks of going the extra mile. According to Roman law, a soldier could compel a civilian to carry his gear for one mile. Jesus instructs His followers to carry it for two miles. This act of voluntary service goes beyond what is required and forces the oppressor to see the person they are oppressing in a new light. It shifts the power dynamic, demonstrating that the follower of Christ is not merely a passive victim but an active agent of love and service.

Giving More than Asked

In the courtroom, if someone sues for your tunic, Jesus says to offer your cloak as well. This act of giving up more than what is demanded highlights the absurdity of the lawsuit and shows that material possessions are not where true value lies. It places the burden of the unjust act back on the oppressor, who now must reckon with their own pettiness and greed.

Biblical Context

The concept of not retaliating is rooted in the Old Testament but finds its fulfillment in the teachings of Jesus. In Proverbs 20:22, it says, "Do not say, 'I will repay evil'; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you." Likewise, Romans 12:17-21 echoes Jesus' teaching: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil... If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."


Jesus' teaching to turn the other cheek is not a call to passivity but a call to active, creative, and courageous non-violence. It challenges us to break the cycle of retaliation and to transform our adversaries through unexpected acts of grace and dignity. In doing so, we reflect the character of God and open the door to true reconciliation and peace.

As followers of Christ, we are called to rise above our natural inclinations for revenge and instead embody the love and mercy of Jesus. By doing so, we become agents of change in a world desperately in need of God's transformative power.

May we have the courage to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and give more than what is asked, showing the world that true strength lies in the power of love and peace.