But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. (Luke 6:27-30)
Then they spat in his face, and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” (Matthew 26:67-68)
St Theophan the Recluse uses Christ’s words about turning the other cheek to explain how we should respond to any offense (real or imagined) that we might take from a neighbor’s words or action. Theophan warns against just thinking about Christ’s words literally to mean a punch to the face. Rather, he sees in Christ’s words guidance for how to respond to any slight or offense we may take at what another person does. He thus broadens the meaning of Christ’s words, but also helps us to see how to apply the Gospel commands to our daily life and any situation we are in. As Theophan notes any insult is a slap in the face.
Being smitten on the cheek should not be taken literally. We should understand by it any action of our neighbor in which, it seems to us, we did not receive due attention and respect – any action by which we feel degraded, and our honor, as people call it, wounded. Every deed of this kind, however trivial – a look, an expression – is a blow on the cheek. Not only should we endure it, but we should also be ready for some greater degradation which would correspond to turning the other cheek. What happened in your case was a very slight slap on one cheek. And what did you do? Did you turn the other? No; so far from turning it you retaliated. For you have already retaliated; you have made the other person feel that you are somebody, as though saying, ‘Keep your hands off me!’ But what are we good for, you and I, if we do this? And how can we be regarded as disciples of Christ if we do not obey His commandments? What you should have done is to consider: do I deserve any attention? If you had had this feeling of unworthiness in your heart you would not have taken offense. (THE ART OF PRAYER, p 273)
Many of us will never engage in fisticuffs with the people around us. Many of us will never be physically punched by someone. But all of us will experience times in which Christ would tell us not to retaliate against another but rather to “turn the other cheek” – ignore or forgive what the other did that offended you. Show you are the better person by not taking offense at every slight or when you don’t get the respect you imagine you deserve. Many of these offenses or slights are just not that important and we can be Christian even in the face of negative words directed against us. This is especially important wisdom for those on the Internet who are challenged by the comments of others directed against them. You don’t have to respond to every verbal or typed attack, but can instead ignore the ignorance in order to promote peace or a better understanding of an issue. Many internet discussions devolve quickly into ad hominin attacks and name calling which could be stopped simply by ignoring the ignorant. You don’t have to pretend you weren’t upset by the comments, but neither do you have to respond in kind. Let your behavior always be better than behavior you despise. Or, in other words, don’t allow yourself to be stupidly provoked by every stupid comment others make.
Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. He who does good is of God; he who does evil has not seen God. (3 John 11)
See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. (1 Thessalonians 5:15)