Here’s another instalment in Jon Giaan’s “Secret History of the World”.
This all came out of a conversation I was having with a friend, when one of Trump’s sayings came up:
If someone pushes you, you have to push them back. Otherwise they won’t respect you.
I like this saying a lot. For me it’s a question of self-respect. If you let people bully you around, you’ll let the whole world bully you around. You’ll never find the strength you need to claim the things you want in life.
But then my friend says, “So much for ‘Turn the other cheek’, hey?”
And so then I found myself in a pickle. Do I side with Trump or do I side with Jesus? I love the Donald, but as a fountain of wisdom and truth, it’s hard to hold a light to Jesus…
So I decided to do a little digging into this ‘Turn the other cheek’ saying. Now I need to throw in a disclaimer here. When I say I did “a little” research, I mean it. Just an hour or two on Google. This should not be taken for expert opinion. I have no idea what the actual ‘truth’ is. This is just an interesting set of ideas. I’ll give them to you as I found them and you can make your own mind up.
THIS IS FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!
Likewise, I don’t pretend to know what Jesus was really on about. If you’re looking to a semi-educated property investor for spiritual advice, you need more help than I can give you.
With that out the way, the full saying, as reported in the King James version is:
38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.
41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
— Matthew 5:38–5:42 KJV
Now the “King James” part of that always makes me a little tetchy. I’m suspicious of texts commissioned by monarchs and dictators. And Jimmy’s on record as saying he wasn’t a fan of the “seditious… dangerous and traitorous” tendencies in the notes of the Geneva bible, which included endorsing the right to resist a tyrant.
But anyway, we normally interpret ‘turn the other cheek’ to mean, just keep letting him hit you. But what about those other two suggestions? They don’t work quite the same way…
But there’s another interpretation out there. This one says that under Roman occupation, it was common to backhand servants, slaves, children, farm animals etc as a way of expressing dominance.
You would use the right hand for this, since the left-hand was considered impure. And if you’re backhanding someone with your right hand, you’re backhanding someone’s right check, which is why Jesus is specific about that.
And what happens if you turn the other cheek? They can only back-hand you if they use their left-hand, which they can’t. They could slap or punch you with the right, but that didn’t have the dominating connotations of a backhand. You only punch your equals.
Suddenly, the aggressor faces a dilemma and doesn’t know what to do.
You’re messing with their minds.
Like wise with losing your coat in a court of law. The Roman empire was built on debt, and rather than stealing land, land was often confiscated for unpaid debts. It was even possible to sue a poor person for their coat, though you had to return it to them at night.
Jesus’ suggestion is that if they take your coat, give them your shirt also, and just stroll on out of there stark naked.
In those times there was as much shame in seeing someone naked as there was in being naked, and you’re making a mockery of the court system.
Turn the other butt cheek.
Again, you’re totally messing with them.
And the last point is that soldiers had a right to force citizens to carry their stuff, but only for a mile. If they forced you to walk further than that they were liable to be punished. Jesus’s suggestion is walk the mile, and then go an extra mile. Suddenly they’ve breached their own laws. Do they stop you and ask for their stuff back? You’re not disobeying them, so they can’t punish you…
Jesus is having a laugh.
But most importantly, this is not a doctrine of passively letting yourself get slapped about. This is about loving your enemy and not getting pulled into aggression and domination. But it is also about holding on to your dignity, your autonomy and your freedom.
For a people subject to generations of Roman rule, this would have been a radical doctrine of personal power.
It’s about self-respect and refusing to let anybody take your humanity and dignity.
It’s about not letting anybody push you around.
And now suddenly Trump and Jesus aren’t so far apart. I can kiss my bed-side pictures of Trump and Jesus at night, safe in the knowledge that I’m not in conflict with my values.
And the take home message is the same as always. There are structures set up specifically to make you feel weak and powerless. To make you submissive and obedient. The more things change the more they stay the same.
And what would Jesus do?
He would mess with those structures (in a powerfully loving way). You can’t meet force with force if they have 10,000x more force than you. But you need to find a way to hold on to your dignity and reclaim your power.
Because without that, you’re nothing.
(That’s a revolutionary message that would make any King nervous.)
But like I said, I don’t pretend to know what Jesus really meant. It’s just an interesting set of ideas. A conspiracy theory even.
If someone pushes you, is it smart to push back?
What would Jesus do?
What would Donald do?