This scripture reading is troubling because in it, Jesus addresses a sin of which we are all guilty. He continues the pattern of mentioning a well-known law from the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) and then surpassing the meaning of the law with his own teaching in order to show how human beings really ought to try to live. The law that serves as his foundation here in this morning’s reading is traditionally known as “the law of the tooth”.
The law of the tooth was meant to serve as a restraint to keep retaliation and violence from escalating. If someone takes your eye, then you take one of theirs – no more. If someone knocks out your tooth, then you’re entitled to knock out one of theirs. In other words the punishment should fit the crime, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Jesus’ own teaching, however, surpasses the law of the tooth. “I say to you, do not resist an evildoer.” He gives three “real life” examples of what this would look like.
First, if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. In the world of Jesus, to be struck on the right cheek would mean either being hit with the backside of someone’s right hand, or being hit with the palm of someone’s left hand. Either one of these would have been an incredibly humiliating insult, not to mention an act of violence. Still, Jesus teaches to turn the other cheek. Invite your attacker to do it again.