Leviticus is often contrasted to the New Testament teaching about turning the other cheek, which is widely assumed to be a lesson in passivity. Not true. Jesus lived in Palestine when it was ruled by the Romans, for whom it was a sign of weakness to strike another person with the back of the hand. Yet that’s precisely what happens if I turn my cheek when you and I are facing each other and you go to hit me, and you, like most people, are right-handed. You have to go past my left cheek and backhand me to get a good blow. In Roman times, that meant you were confronting your own weakness even as you exercised power over me. Jesus teaches us not to ignore the wrong done to us; he wants us to force those who would punish us to experience how they are diminished by their lack of mercy.

Brad Hirschfield, You Don’t Have to Be Wrong For Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007), 95.

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