When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well
No pain, no gain. You reap what you sow. The punishment should fit the crime. These sayings express our belief in natural consequences and proportional justice. In today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 5:39), Jesus addresses the Jewish version of this principle: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (see Leviticus 24:20). It may sound harsh to us, but the people would have understood it as a merciful commandment that curbed anger and placed a limit on revenge.
But even that’s not merciful enough for Jesus. He tells his listeners to turn the other cheek and to offer no resistance whatsoever to an enemy. By going beyond what’s challenging but reasonable, Jesus gets to the heart of the Law: the disproportionate, undeserved mercy of God.
Looking back at these words through the lens of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can see how he perfectly fulfilled this command. But it wasn’t only during his final days that Jesus turned the other cheek. According to St. John Paul II,
The whole of Christ’s life was a continual teaching: his silences, his miracles, his gestures, his prayer, his love for people, his special affection for the little and the poor, his…sacrifice on the cross…, and his resurrection are the…fulfillment of revelation. Hence for Christians the crucifix is one of the most sublime and popular images of Christ the Teacher. (On Catechesis in Our Time, 9)
Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek every time he endured his opponents’ attempts to trap him in his teaching. He taught us when his own townsfolk tried to kill him and he just peacefully walked away. And most powerfully, he taught us when he prayed, “Father, forgive them” as he hung on the cross (Luke 23:34).
Turning the other cheek is hard, but don’t get discouraged. Jesus knows how hard it is. He won’t condemn you if you should fall to the temptation to seek revenge or to withhold forgiveness. He’ll simply do what he has always done—turn the other cheek, forgive you, and offer you more of his grace to do better.
Word Among Us