In the sermon on the mount, one of the most uneasy things Jesus has said to his people is to offer the other cheek when someone slaps you. To be precise, Matthew 5:39 says “But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.“
This has been commonly interpreted as Jesus’ warning about the human desire for retaliation. On how retaliation only creates more problems than peace. But there is more to it than what meets the eye. It is a lecture but at the same time a prophecy of what will happen to him when the time comes that he is handed over to the Romans.
To see it as a prophecy, we need to read the entirety of February 23’s mass gospel which is Matthew 5:38-48
Jesus said to his disciples: 38“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. 40If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. 41Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. 42Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. 43“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? 48So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
How is it a prophecy?
Let us first understand that Jesus is a Rabbi, hence his sermons. He’s a spiritual teacher who dislikes other preachers who do not practice what they preach. Therefore, it is expected that Jesus would be different from those who he called “hypocrites”. Unlike them, he will stick true to every word of his preaching.
Now back to the gospel reading. Notice the actions Jesus is using in his sermon like the striking of the cheek or being pressed into service for a mile. These are the things that he will experience on Calvary. Yes, this sermon is both a lecture and a prophecy at the same time. It is in Calvary where he puts to fruition what he has said here.
- When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well
Scripture states that Jesus was slapped in the face by a temple guard in John 18:22 after his arrest. He was even struck and spat on repeatedly by the Roman soldiers after his trial before Pilate. With all the beatings, Jesus never retaliated.
- If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well
To “go to law” is to be sued. Jesus was sued by the high priests under Roman proceedings where Pilate stood as judge and executioner. He was sued by his own people to eradicate his claim as the Son of God. He was then stripped naked and mocked by the soldiers in Matthew 27:28. But even in his nakedness, Jesus never retaliated. As a matter of fact, He even offered his “cloak” to us.
The significance of the word “cloak” in scriptures is adoption or sonship. Just as Elijah threw his cloak upon Elisha to symbolize his adoption and being chosen for God’s will , so does Jesus throws his cloak upon us which is his Holy Spirit. Granting us adoption under the parenthood of his Father and to become like him, the workers for God’s will.
- Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles
In this verse, Jesus uses the word “mile”. A mile is specifically a Roman unit of measure. Only the imperial government at that time used this unit, and the fact that Jesus used this word in his sermon further emphasizes the Roman’s purposes in his narrative.
This verse also is synonymous to the forced labor that Roman soldiers impose on civilians to carry their gears. Jesus is forced by the Romans to carry his cross and march to a hill called Golgotha or Calvary. The cross was a Roman military equipment of torture and punishment and the hill is just immediately outside the walls of Jerusalem, perhaps only a mile in distance (back then a mile is only 1000 paces, which is shorter than today’s mile). Even if it was of short distance, it would have felt double the distance for Jesus since it was an uphill march and considering he was beaten up and mocked all around.
- Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
Generations upon generations of people before Christ has asked for God’s favor, mercy, and salvation. Jesus gave it on the cross facing us.
- But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
Before his death on the cross, Jesus asked his Father to pardon everyone who was instrumental in his persecution. He prays in Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
- That you may be children of your heavenly Father
His unconditional love is what proved his being as God’s son. Even the Centurion who witnessed his death says “Truly, this was the Son of God!”.
Jesus dressed us with his cloak of holiness. He has invited us to become like him as Elijah has invited Elisha to become like him. We are to be children of God, givers of love. That is the only way we can be called his children. For God is love, and therefore love is reflected by the Son.
- For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?… And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that?
The love that Jesus showed and proved on the cross is not just for the Jews, but it was also for the Gentiles. For all humanity! That we may all be reconciled in the very arms of our creator where we were intended to be before the fall of Adam and Eve.
- So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The perfect image of God is his unconditional love on the cross. Where a God has died for his creation so he can invite them to a renewed live of kinship with him in one body called His church.
Unity with God is our perfection. We were created in God’s image and likeness and that image is unconditional love. Original Sin has corrupted that but God on the cross has made it possible for us to regain that long lost image. And now, we have to own it!
We were called perfect or “very good” when God created us and as time passes by, he reminds it to us.