Being slapped on the right cheek.

posted in: Bible 1

On Sunday I challenged everyone to ask God to open their eyes to understand the Scriptures better. I prayed the prayer myself. I am embarrassed to confess that I was surprised when God answered my prayer!

I have read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7) many, many times. Included in the sermon is the verse “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Matthew 5v39.

What I hadn’t paid any attention too before is that Jesus specifically mentioned right cheek, what is so special about being slapped on the right cheek? I realised if I were going to slap someone, I would normally use my right hand and hit the other person on the left cheek. To slap someone on the right cheek, I would either need to use my left hand or use the back of my right hand.

I know enough to understand that in ancient cultures and some current contexts, where toilet paper is not available, what the left hand is used for! Using the back of the hand to slap someone is equally insulting. Therefore, to slap someone either with the left hand or the back of the right hand is a very great insult. It is to dismiss them as dirt, to treat them with distain, to take away their dignity and treat them as an inferior. It is significantly different then just being slapped.

The next step in my eyes being opened was to recognised that I had never metaphorically been slapped on my right cheek. I have no recollection of being treated with distain, never had to handle being regularly treated as if I were dirt and an inferior, never had my dignity consistently undermined. I realised that I am the privileged one, a tall, white, well-educated male. I am more likely to slap others on the right cheek than to be slapped!

However, many of my friends have had to live with that experience historically and even currently. They experience things I have not. I need to recognise that, and admit that. People experience being slapped on the right cheek for many different reasons, it can be because of their ethnicity, gender, social class, education or for other reasons.

What Jesus says to these people is to turn the other cheek. Doing so is to seek to be dignified, to declare I am equally human. It is saying I should be treated not with contempt but honour. It removes the power to humiliate. It is a refusal to acknowledge that I am inferior. The alternative to offering the other cheek is the expected response, to cower in submission. It is a refusal to hang your head in shame.

The application for me of this instruction from Jesus is therefore to never strike anyone on the right cheek and to encourage and support those who are slapped on the right cheek. To encourage and support them to respond with dignity. Not what I had ever seen before. Thankyou Jesus for opening my eyes to the truth that is in your word.


  1. alan.short

    Very insightful and challenging. Thanks Tony.

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