In our base instincts, we have a reflex reaction to danger (and often to any stressful situation). We are wired to react with “fight or flight.” We either fight back against the real or perceived danger, or we run from it. It is an instinct for self-preservation that causes this.
So, how do we read Jesus’ call to turn the other cheek? What about when someone does some injustice to us? Do we read it as an act of submission to evil?
Jesus’ teaching here is neither fight nor flight. We do not attack the one committing evil against us. We do not escalate the violence. But we do not run either. In order to turn the other cheek, we have to remain where we are to even give the other person the opportunity to do that. There are legitimate reasons to flee for self-preservation. There are legitimate reasons to fight. Just look for the Catholic Church’s criteria for a just war. But fight or flight are not the only possible alternatives. It is likely in many situations that the best alternative is the one that Jesus gives us.
Jesus calls us to stand our ground against evil, but in a non-violent way. We do not practice vigilante justice. We do not try to get “an eye for an eye.” Reactions to evil or violence with violence of our own do not bring an end. It more likely means an escalation of hostilities with more damage to come.
Instead, we hold our ground, maintain our Christian attitude and our God-given dignity, and call out the evil. We allow evil to be seen for what it is. In surprising them with a firm but compassionate response, we open up the possibility of their conversion.
We must never think that we need their approval to have a firm sense of who we are. We must never think that another can take away our dignity. We only lose it when we choose to surrender it. Our dignity comes from God. It is inherent in who we are…in what we are. We are children of God. No behavior by another person can change this.
We have numerous examples of people who resisted evil using nonviolent means. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and even Pope Saint John Paul II. All brought real change to our world. All did so without resorting to violence.
Can I resist the urge to fight or flee when faced with injustice? Can I discern when the best way is to neither fight nor flee?