Sunday Gospel reflections: Turning the other cheek

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Oil painting illustrating Jesus and his disciples on a meadow. Photo: Comaniciu Dan/Shutterstock

When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. (Matthew 5:39)

A Scripture scholar’s insight transformed this line for me.

In first-century Palestine, left-handedness was seen as evil. People never used their left hands for any public task, even slapping a person. The only way to strike a person on the right cheek, using the right hand, is with a backhand. One could only strike “inferiors” backhanded: slaves, women, and children. Striking an equal, a free man, with a backhand could incur legal punishment.

Hence, Jesus’ message: If someone treats you as an inferior by backhanding you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek to them and challenge them to treat you as an equal, a form of nonviolent resistance. It is an instruction about using inner strength in a noble way. 

This call to respond with dignity is greatly needed in this time when verbal backhanding erupts in every forum. We need Jesus’ call to stand up to contemptuousness not by striking back, but by challenging to respect.

— Patricia Livingston


Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18

Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13

1 Corinthinans 3:16-23

Matthew 5:38-48

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