Turn the other cheek (Mt 5:39-5:39)

“But I say to you!

‘Do not resist

An evildoer!

But if anyone

Strikes you

On the right cheek,

Turn the other also.’”

 

ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ· ἀλλ’ ὅστις σε ῥαπίζει εἰς τὴν δεξιὰν σιαγόνα σου, στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην·

 

Matthew is not alone in having Jesus solemnly speak (ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν) about turning the other cheek.  Luke, in chapter 6:29, around his blessings and curses, had the exact same saying, perhaps another example of the Q source.  Jesus told them not to resist the evildoer (μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ).  Is this evil one the devil, as implied earlier in this chapter?  Or is this just another evil person?  If they were struck on the right cheek (ἀλλ’ ὅστις σε ῥαπίζει εἰς τὴν δεξιὰν σιαγόνα σου), they should turn the other cheek (στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην).  A slap on the right cheek was usually a back handed slap since most people were right handed.  Jesus himself would be struck on the cheek in the passion narrative.  They would be true followers of Jesus, if they did not resist, as in the passion story.  This is one of the strongest arguments for Christian pacifism.

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The sermon on the mount (Mt 5:1-5:2)

“Jesus saw the crowds.

He went up the mountain.

After he sat down,

His disciples came to him.

He began to speak.

He taught them.”

 

δὼν δὲ τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος· καὶ καθίσαντος αὐτοῦ προσῆλθαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ

καὶ ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς λέγων

 

This Sermon on the Mount contains the main themes of Jesus’ teaching.  There is an equivalent in Luke, chapter 6:20-26, but there is nothing like this in Mark or John.  This sermon is one of the great examples of the common Q source.  How did Luke and Matthew use this source differently?  Matthew has 8 blessings, but Luke has 4 blessings and 4 curses.  Matthew continued with his theme about large crowds.  Jesus saw that he had a large crowd (δὼν δὲ τοὺς ὄχλους).  What exactly is a large crowd?  Jesus went up to a mountain (ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος), probably some rolling hill near Capernaum.  Matthew has another echo of Moses, as someone who escaped death as a child, left Egypt, went into the wilderness for 40 days, and now goes up the mountain.  In Luke, Jesus was on a level plain.  Right from the start, there are two different perspectives.  Jesus sat down (καὶ καθίσαντος αὐτοῦ), which was the common position of Jewish teaching rabbis.  Of course, his followers or disciples came to him (προσῆλθαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ).  Obviously, there were now more than the two sets of two brothers.  Jesus then opened his mouth (καὶ ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ) to teach them with his words (ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς λέγων).  If he was seated, in order to be heard, the crowd could not have been more than a couple of hundred people, if that, maybe even less than 100.

The first curse against their greed (Hab 2:6-2:8)

“Shall not everyone

Taunt such people,

With mocking riddles?

Let them say about them!

‘Woe to you!

You heap up

What is not your own!’

How long will you

Load yourselves

With goods

Taken in pledge?

Will not your own creditors

Suddenly rise up?

Those who make you tremble

Will wake up.

Then you will be booty

For them.

Because you have plundered

Many nations,

All that survive of the peoples

Shall plunder you.

Human bloodshed,

With the violence

To the earth,

Is in the cities,

As well as to all

Who live in them.”

Habakkuk has a series of taunts against the Chaldeans because of their behavior.  These 5 woes or curses were delivered in mocking riddles.  First of all, they have stored up things that were not their own.  How long would they continue to take things as pledges for the future?  Those creditors would rise up against them, and make them tremble and shake.  Then, they would become the booty of the people whom they plundered.  They have plundered so many countries, that the surviving countries would plunder them.  There was so much violence and bloodshed in the cities where people lived.  Does that sound familiar?

False justice (Isa 10:1-10:4)

“Woe to you

Who make iniquitous decrees!

Woe to you

Who write oppressive statutes!

You turn aside

The needy from justice!

You rob the poor of my people

Of their right!

Widows may be your spoil!

You make the orphans your prey!

What will you do

On the day of punishment?

What will you do

In the calamity

That will come from afar?

To whom will you flee for help?

Where will you leave your wealth?

Will you crouch among the prisoners?

Will you fall among the slain?

For all this

His anger has not turned away.

His hand is still stretched out.”

Isaiah then curses those who practice injustice, those who make evil decrees and oppressive statutes. He was against those who took away justice and robbed the poor people of their rights. These unjust people took stuff from the widows and the orphans as if they were taking spoil after a war or prey for an animal. What were they going to do on the punishment day? In troubles, who would help them? Where were they going to leave their wealth? They might end up as a prisoner or get killed. Once again, this little section ends with the refrain that the angry hand of Yahweh has not turned away, since it is still stretched out today.

A reproach against large estates (Isa 5:8-5:10)

“Woe to you

Who join house to house!

Woe to you

Who add field to field!

Finally there is room

For no one but you.

You are left

To live alone

In the midst of the land.

Yahweh of hosts has sworn

In my hearing.

‘Surely many houses

Shall be desolate.

Large houses

Will be without inhabitants.

Beautiful houses

Will be without inhabitants.

Ten acres of vineyard

Shall yield but one bath.

A homer of seed

Shall yield a mere ephah.’”

Next Isaiah issues a series of curses or reproaches to the people of Judah. First of all, he rants about the idea of people wanting too much land. If you add house to house, or field to field, you make it difficult for others. Your huge estate will leave you to live alone on your land. Yahweh had spoken to Isaiah to say that many houses will lay desolate. Large and beautiful houses will be empty. The land will not yield much. 10 acres will only produce about 6 gallons (a bath) of a crop. 6 bushels of seed (a homer) will produce less than a bushel of grapes (an ephah). The more you try to expand your living area and your fields, the more it will come to very little.

More paradoxes (Sir 34:28-34:31)

“When one builds,

Another tears down.

What do they gain

But hard work?

When one prays,

Another curses.

To whose voice

Will the Lord listen?

If one washes

After touching a corpse,

Then touches it again,

What has he gained

By his washing?

So if one fasts

For his sins,

Then goes again

And does the same things,

Who will listen

To his prayer?

What has he gained

By humbling himself?”

Sirach cites various paradoxes in life. One man builds and another tears it down. What is this except a waste of time and labor for both of them? Who does the Lord listen to, if one person prays and the other curses? If you wash after touching a dead body, then you go and touch it again, what was the point of washing in the first place? If you fast for your sins, and then go out again and sin, who would listen to your prayers? What did you gain by humbling yourself?

The problems in lending money (Sir 29:4-29:7)

“Many persons regard a loan

As a windfall.

This causes trouble

To those who help them.

One kisses another’s hands

Until he gets a loan.

He is very deferential

In speaking of his neighbor’s money.

But at the time

For repayment,

He delays.

He pays back

With empty promises.

He finds fault with the time.

If he can pay,

His creditor

Will hardly get back half.

The borrower will regard

That as a windfall.

If he cannot pay,

The borrower has robbed

The other of his money.

He has needlessly

Made him an enemy.

He will repay him

With curses.

He will repay him

With reproaches.

Instead of glory,

He will repay him

With dishonor.

Many refuse to lend,

Not because of meanness,

But from fear of being defrauded needlessly.”

Sirach says that this ideal of lending money to your neighbor as giving a helping hand has a few hiccups. Some people think that the loan is a gift, so that they never pay it back. They go around being very deferential to the people with money, kissing their hands. However, when it comes time to repay the loan all they give back are empty promises. They say that they need more time. Sometimes they only pay half of it back, since they think the rest of it was a gift to them. If they do not pay it back, they have robbed their neighbor. They have needlessly made him an enemy. Curses and reproaches will follow with dishonor and anger on all sides. This had led many people to refuse to lend money because they are afraid of being defrauded. Thus there are less and less no interest loans happening.