Matthew 5:38-39 quoted Jesus as follows: ”You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
Biblical Moses’ law says: if someone plucks your eye, pluck his eye too. In other words, if someone slaps you on your cheek, slap his cheek back. You hit me, I hit you back, tit for tat – no forgiveness. And so, you cannot turn the other cheek.
However, if we should follow Jesus’ injunction to turn the other cheek, there is a limit to how many cheeks we will turn. If both of your cheeks have been slapped and the aggressor still wants to slap your cheek, what other cheek would you turn? None. Now is the time to fight back.
The difference between Moses’ and Jesus’ options is forgiveness. In Moses’, there’s no room for forgiveness. Retaliate as quickly as possible. In Jesus’ option, the implied meaning of turning the other cheek is that you can only forgive twice before you revenge.
Another time when turning the other cheek may be practically impossible is during self-defense. For illustration purposes let’s consider this Igbo (African) folklore.
Once upon a time, a Leopard asked a sheep to allow one of her lambs to come and live with her. The sheep agreed but first, she must determine which of her lambs would suit the invitation.
She summoned her 12 lambs and asked each of them the following question: how many times would you be injured before you retaliate? Some of the lambs said that they will not revenge at all. Others said between 10 and 20 times.
Her 12th lamb (little Ram) told his mother; I will never allow anyone to injure me. In fact, before you do me, I will do you. His mother was very satisfied and said to him, you will go and live with the Leopard.
The little Ram went to live with the Leopard and her cub. Before retiring for the night, the little ram overheard the Leopard telling her cub to wake her up in the night so that she will kill the little Ram for food.
On the bed, the Leopard placed her cub close to her and the little Ram after her cub. While the Leopard was asleep, the little Ram swapped his position with the cub and said to the Leopard; Mum I am hungry.
The Leopard stretched her hands, grabbed and killed her cub believing she was killing the little Ram. Suddenly the leopard realized that she has killed her cub. By then, the little ram has run back to her mother.
Let’s transport the animal experience to a human scenario. You have a killer with a gun who is ready to kill you. Somehow he got distracted and you can kill him first. What would you do?
Allow him to shoot you first (and hopefully it won’t be fatal) then you shoot him back (eye for an eye). Allow him to shoot you twice before you revenge (turn the other cheek). kill him while you can before he kills you (I do you before you do me).
Now, let me tell you how the big boys of the world would react if they are faced with the above choices:
By the way, the little ram’s option is what reigns today. America roams the world looking for threats (sometimes imaginary) against them. So, they bomb whoever on mere suspicions, like Saddam Hussein and his supposed weapons of mass destruction.
And if you pluck America’s eye first, like the bombing of the world trade centre, they will not pluck your eye, they will kill you (ask Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden). Even though America is the promoter of Christianity, it will never turn the other cheek.
Moreover, Israeli drones comb the whole of the middle east for threats. Anything that looks like Hezbollah or Hamas is bombed mercilessly. And if you attack Israel first, say Palestinians throw some stones at Israel, Israel will obliterate that area with their missiles.
Saudi Arabia and its fellow Sunni Muslims are bombing Houthi rebels in Yemen because there’s a threat against Sunni Islam. And so on…
As you can see, the idea of an eye for an eye rarely exists, talk less of turning the other cheek. Today we have powerful countries tracking those who are likely to pluck their eyes and kill them before they attempt it.
All the same, there’s nothing wrong with forgiveness, nonetheless, the aggressor must remorsefully ask for it before he may be forgiven. And while considering forgiveness, you must know that there’s a time when an eye for an eye or turning the other cheek will never be an option.
As for me, prevention is better than cure. And most especially, I love my Igbo (African) folklore, they are a great source of inspiration.