This is one of those “thinking on paper” posts, as I call them. I have been tearing apart nine verses in Luke 6, particularly this one, “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.”
I cracked open commentaries, different translations, Google, etc., to see what Jesus meant when he said it. I did not like it at all. Was this teaching pacifism, weakness, even heard it was a method of quiet rebellion? The martyred Christians are examples of pacifism, right? What about self-defense? So I dealt with the pacifist part first.
First, I looked at it in the parallel account in Matthew 5:39. It reads ‘Don’t resist an evil person.’ The cross-reference took me to Exodus 21:24, which is the Jewish guidelines for maximum levels of punishment for judges, as evidenced in Deuteronomy 19:15-21. Lamentations 3:30 even has the phrase ‘give his cheek’, though further reading looks like Jeremiah was calling for Israel to repent.
So is it pacifism? I do not think so; it is something that has to be taken in the context of the surrounding verses. ‘Love your enemy’, which reminded me of Proverbs 25:21-22; in Luke 6:27 is the overview verse. In fact, Leviticus 19:18 reads not to bear a grudge against the sons of your people. Instead of retaliation or personal vengeance, it calls for us to pray for them. Martyrdom? Cannot deny it happens even to this day. First century Christians faced a lot, from persecution to every day dangers (2 Corinthians 11:26), so Jesus did tell them to arm themselves in Luke 22:36; but not to lead a rebellion or spread the Gospel by the sword (Luke 22: 49-53). Exodus 22 even has guidelines for self-defense surprisingly enough.
Self-defense is fine as far as my understanding goes. The key to understanding the verse is in the context of Luke 6:27-36. Loving others, not romantic love or even friendly insomuch, as acting in their self-interests; it is speaking of principles to use in dealing with those who treat you badly, not trying to kill you. It is about not retaliating or seeking vengeance for your wounded ego, to be generous if asked to meet a need, and if they cannot pay it back, then forgive the debt. That made sense to me in the context, rather than by theft. Lawsuits, being willing to pay all that is asked of you, I think.
Then the passage goes further with the reasoning behind it, treating others as you want to be treated, fairly without hypocritical standards, being empathetic. It is easy to do with our friends, good people, and if you know you will be paid back. Anyone can do that, the hard part is to do good for your enemies (not participating or enabling, you are helping a need), to lend without expecting it back. As if he anticipated the question (probably did) “Why should we do that?” since it goes completely against our natural tendencies. Because the reward will be great, and being like Jesus, you will a child of God who sends life-giving needs to everyone. It closes with Jesus calling for us to be forgiving, as God is forgiving. That is a hard bar to reach up to, but it is possible.