Cheek Turning and Nekkidness: Remembering the Subversive Jesus (Matthew 5:38-42)

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Sometimes we forget how subversive Jesus is.

It’s not surprising; we’ve spent 2,000 years trying to tame him, to make him part of the establishment, to use his kingdom as a way of consolidating our own empires rather than accepting who’s really on the throne. He calls us to radical discipleship; in return we’ve used him to justify violence, oppression and hate. Forget the shrill accusations of heresy over some point of doctrine, co-opting Jesus as a figurehead for our own agendas is often the worst kind of blasphemy.

Take his command to “Turn the other cheek”. Read that from a position of power and privilege and it’s easy to turn it into a way of maintaining the status quo. Don’t cause trouble, don’t make accusations, just wait for your reward in heaven.

The world’s a comfortable place when you’re at the top of the pile. So when that comfort is disrupted we find terrible things happening. Look at the mess surrounding abuse within the evangelical church. Look at some of the misogynist responses to the #YesAllWomen Twitter meme. The response to these outrages from those perpetuating and empowering often amounts to “Stop moaning and go away.” Don’t threaten the system. Don’t be disruptive.

Do we really think that Jesus, Prince of Peace, healer, the Good Shepherd calls us to that level of passivity when innocents are being abused, when those in a position of power make excuses for that abuse?

“Turn the other cheek” isn’t about being passive, it’s about non-violently asserting your humanity. We’re not talking here about a bar fight, we’re talking about a back-handed slap designed to humiliate and keep you in line. Turn the other cheek – reversing the situation – means establishing yourself as an equal. You don’t respond with violence, but you sure as heck don’t have to empower your oppressor.

If you’re dirt poor and give the guy who’s suing you for your tunic your cloak as well, you’re going to be standing naked in the court room. That’s going to draw some attention to the injustice of the situation.

If you’re forced to carry an occupying soldier’s pack for a mile, then insist on carrying it an extra mile, you ‘re breaking the rules – the soldier would beg to take the pack back or risk court martial.

Jesus never promotes violence, but that doesn’t mean we cower and embrace victimhood. After all, Martin Luther King was a proponent of non-violence but no-one can call him passive. Rather we’re called to creative ways of confronting oppression, violence and abuse – there are ways of winning through storytelling, through satire, through direct action, through modelling a better way… We’re called to live in God’s kingdom, not use the tools of empire for ourselves. And that’s sometimes a tall order for those of us who benefit from worldly privilege, even when that privilege flies in the face of Christ calling us towards love and justice. Remember, the Sermon on the Mount was delivered mainly towards people at the bottom of the pile. Those with power are called to not slap or sue in the first place.

God’s Kingdom is more creative and counter cultural than we ever give it credit for. We’re citizens of that kingdom, and empowering other empires is sometimes a form of treachery; we need to embody the love, grace, justice and compassion of Christ, and that means turning the other cheek as a way of helping everyone. It’s not an unrealistic ideal; it’s a way of telling, a way of living a new story.

PostScript: If you’re encountering domestic or sexual or emotional abuse then please, get out of there, seek help and tell someone. Because what’s happening to you is wrong, no matter how often you’re told that you should respect and forgive your husband or your pastor or whoever else is abusing you. You are a human being, you are made in the image of God, and you do not deserve to be treated with violence or contempt.

And if you’re carrying out abuse, if you believe that hitting your wife is okay, if you’re a leader covering up sexual assaults on kids because it protects your organisation, if you believe that sex is something to be taken rather than something mutual and consensual, then stop. Get help. You are harming children of God and none of your excuses and justifications will change that. Do something about it today.

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