Four Cheeks Turned — 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48

When attacked, our natural response is “fight or flight,” but Jesus suggests a  supernatural response: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” Since the Jews regarded the left hand as unclean, they would reflexively strike with the right hand. If the right cheek were hit, then one had been backhanded with contempt. Responding by turning the other cheek neither attacks not retreats, but insists on being regarded as an equal, whom one must strike (if at all) with an open hand. Jesus wants us to stand our ground in the face of injustice, assertively but lovingly, in hopes that the offender will reconsider his ways. Jesus modeled this response when he was struck during his trial before Annas:

The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his doctrine. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus and said, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” (John 18:19-24)

Another saintly example was shown by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Though reports vary, Mother Teresa was once begging bread from a baker for her orphanage. When the baker responded by spitting into her hand, she replied to effect, ‘I will keep this for me, but please give something for my children.’

In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, a bishop welcomes an impoverished convict to join his table and sleep at his home. However, that night, Jean Valjean steals his host’s silverware and goes away. The police catch him and take him to the bishop. Looking at Jean Valjean, the good bishop exclaims, “Ah! here you are! I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?” Jean Valjean opens his eyes wide and stares at the venerable Bishop “with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of.” The bishop’s turn of the cheek spares the thief’s freedom and saves his soul.

And finally, a true story from a modern marriage: A woman’s husband had a terrible temper and every time it flared she would say, “That’s just like you to lose your temper!” But then, following a stroke of insight, she began responding differently. The next time he began to fly of the handle she told him, “That’s not like you to lose your temper,” and he nearly fell out of his chair. Even the kids looked at her funny, but she stuck with her new resolution. Months later, while at a restaurant together, he became irritated by the slow service. He started to fume about it, but then he suddenly stopped, turned to her, and said, “That’s not like me to lose my temper, is it?” This time, it is said, she nearly fell on the floor.

Was it true the first time the woman declared that it was not like her husband to lose his temper? The claim did not match his previous behavior, but perhaps he changed because she revealed to him that his uncontrolled anger was quite unlike the father, husband, and Christian man he truly and deeply wanted to be. This is the sort of realization and conversion we are to hope for in turning the other cheek.

Plus, a fifth story: “If a teen mugs you for your wallet…

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