As I was reading over my several daily digests (all the posts from a single day in a single loooong e-mail) from the Catholic Spitfire Yahoo Group (which are quite lengthy and complex, requiring much time and thought to "digest"), I ran across this post from Eric, who just joined the group in the last few days:
I once read where the "turning the other cheek" was based on the
Oppressor (Romans in this case) back handing the oppressed. The
oppressed were expected to cower in submission; however, Jesus
saying, "turn the other cheek," was intended to invite another hit,
but with the open palm of the Oppressor. This was unacceptable as it would've put the Oppressed on equal footing (socially) with the
Oppressor. Only Equals, in Roman eyes, deserved to be struck with an open palm.
The idea of "turning the other cheek" comes from Scripture, specifically from Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth [Exodus 21:24]: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other one also. (The fifth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew, the 38th and 39th verses)
I had always understood the above verses as restraining our natural impulse to strike back when we are stricken, but that we are rather to "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). But I rather like the idea also that Eric expressed which looks at the social practices of the time of Christ. I still believe that we are to indeed not take any opportunity of revenge in the least but instead by acting contrary to the ordinary impulses of human nature, to demonstrate that we are born of the Spirit and thus are different from those who would give into their desire for "right."
I don't say the above to seem "superior" or "better than" those who are not believers in and practicioners of Christianity, but rather to say that with God's help (not of our own desire or volition), He does enable us to do what we would not be able to accomplish in our own strength. How difficult it is to allow others to speak or do that which is demeaning to us, and to not only NOT retaliate, but also to open ourselves to another attack of the same. It is rare for our humanity to operate in this selfless manner; therefore, it is God at work within us which allows us to rise above our selfishness and to allow others to continue in their abuse of us without retaliation, without revenge.
The detail that Eric mentioned is intriguing because if the Romans were to strike again "on the other cheek," then they would be admitting that the follwer of Christ was their equal. At this time in history, the people following Jesus were Jews, whom the Romans considered as filth, almost as animals. So to have equality declared by allowing another strike on the other cheek was forcing the oppressors of the Jews to acknowledge the Jews' status as social equals of Roman citizens. What a concept....
Anyway, there is much to ponder and "digest" in these concepts, especially if equality with Romans was something that was sought by the early followers of Christ who, after all, were waiting for their promised Messiah who, they thought (and wrongly so) would defeat the Romans, remove them from this sacred territory, and return the Jewish state to full independence. Hmmmmm.......