The Pope made a strange comment (I thought) in his most recent Sunday Angelus mini-homily. He said that Jesus’ command to “Love your enemies”
does not consist in surrendering to evil — as claims a false interpretation of “turn the other cheek” (Luke 6:29) — but in responding to evil with good (Romans 12:17-21), and thus breaking the chain of injustice.
Who on earth would ever interpret “turning the other cheek” as “surrendering to evil”? I thought.
Then tonight, as we were reading through tomorrow’s Gospel from Maddy’s First Communion bible (it’s an attractive production called the “International Children’s Bible” and uses the “New Century Version” translation which is very simple for her to read), I saw this translation of Matthew 5:38-39
“You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I tell you, don’t stand up against an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, then turn and let him slap the other cheek too.”
I thought to myself, that has to be a mistranslation. But in fact it is a quite literal translation of the Greek “me antistenai”. Yet I can’t help but think that in translating the text this way, the translators have, as the Holy Father puts it, made a “false interpretation” of Jesus’ meaning, suggesting that we should simply “surrender” to evil.
In Ephesians 6:10ff, St Paul speaks at length about “with-standing” or “standing against” evil, and he uses exactly the same word that Jesus does here. He says that we need to wear the “whole armour of God” to protect ourselves from the threats of evil. He lists five “defensive” shields against evil (truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, and salvation) but only one “offensive” weapon: “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”
In the light of St Paul’s teaching, then, Jesus is clearly using “me antistenai” to mean “do not retaliate”, and even more specifically, “do not retaliate to violence with violence”, but as the Holy Father says, “confront evil with the weapons of love and truth alone.”
I understand it was Ghandi who coined the term “non-violent resistence”. Jesus went one step further: he indicated that not only was violent resistence out of the question for his followers, the only truly Christian resistence to violence is LOVE.
I want my daughter to grow up knowing that standing up to evil is her duty as a Christian, and that LOVE is the greatest power she can bring to bear against the forces of evil. Oddly enough, this idea is reinforced by one of her favourite book series, Harry Potter. Harry has no special magical powers to stand against the evil of Voldemort, but Dumbledore alerts him to the fact that he has the greatest and most powerful weapon of all, a weapon that was gifted to him by his parents.
Dumbledore: Harry, do you know why it is that Professor Quirrell could not bear to have you touch him?
[Harry shakes his head]
Dumbledore: It was because of your mother. She sacrificed herself for you, and that kind of act leaves a mark.
[Harry reaches up to touch his scar]
Dumbledore: No no, this kind of mark cannot be seen. It lives in your very skin.
Harry: And what is that?
Dumbledore: Love, Harry. Love.