Peter Leithart looks at Jesus’ exhortation to “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39 ESV). Returning to a theme expressed in a previous article, Leithart argues that following Jesus’ commands displays a transforming righteousness.
In this case, Leithart focuses on notions of masculine honor. The slap, he notes, is an insult rather than an assault, and he also contends that “verse 39 should be translated ‘Do not resist by evil means‘ rather than ‘Do not resist evil.’ ” I’d like to see a further analysis of this claim, but the main thrust of Leithart’s article is interesting:
Ultimately, Jesus is not teaching us to turn the cheek because it works. It does work, because it advances the kingdom by undoing cycles of violence and anger and revenge and honor, and opening up a way of reconciliation and restoration. But Jesus ultimately teaches us to turn the cheek because by doing so we follow Him and His example. Jesus teaches us to follow His own example, the way of the Suffering Servant: “I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help Me; therefore I will not be disgraced; therefore I have set My face like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed” (Isaiah 50:6-7). Jesus – God Incarnate – took the second slap, endured both sides of the lex talionis, and He calls us to do the same.
Ecce homo. In fact, Behold Manhood, not the pseudo-strong manhood that retaliates against dishonor to return slap for slap, but the stronger manhood that absorbs the second slap and so embodies the righteousness of God.