Saturday, February 19, 2011

say "hi!" and turn the other cheek

Sunday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
February 20, 2011

Many years ago, Nikita Krushchev was reported to have said the following while on a visit to the United States:

“I’ll tell you what the difference between Christians and me is, and that is if you slap me on the face, I’ll hit you back so hard your head will fall off.”


In today's Sunday Gospel Jesus instructs His disciples to "offer no resistance to one who is evil". "When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well". It is apparent that Jesus is inclined to giving instructions that are most difficult to follow, at least to a world attuned to strictly secular values like Krushchev. Maybe if I were among the crowd, I might respond: Lord, would it be fine if I just duck my head? I have heard of an interesting explanation offered to explain the response of "turning the other cheek". If someone strikes you on your right cheek, the tendency is for your face to turn to the right and then you turn it back again facing front. However if you turn the other cheek in the opposite direction, your assaulter will be in an unlikely position to strike you again on your cheek with his right hand. His physical position would put him in a dilemma, for striking a person with the back of the hand is interpreted as a challenge among equals and not as a humiliation. So, turning the other cheek appears to be a subtle form of self-defense against a second blow. How interesting. There are actually many interpretations offered for this phrase - some of them literal and some metaphorical.

I remember once while traveling on a train in Australia with my family, I was confronted by a rather huge and mean-looking man who was obviously drunk. He looked at my shirt and then stood squarely in front of me and stared at me quite menacingly. I happened to be wearing a fun tshirt which was emblazoned with the words "I do my own stunts". I whispered a short prayer and said "hi!" with the most congenial smile I can muster. Thankfully the guy broke into a grin, replied “howdy mate!” and then gave me a roman handshake. He then sauntered off to the far end of the train and dozed off. (whew!)

The Gospel also tells us that if you greet your brothers only, it is nothing unusual as even pagans do the same. So I think it is better (and much safer) to say "hi" to strangers rather than "what's your problem, dude". Our kids now laugh every time we recall that incident. The world today is so full of confrontation and so lacking in charity. The Gospel is a timeless reminder that love conquers all and that all those who strive for loving in perfection will be children of the heavenly Father. If only Krushchev knew.