Think of someone who has hurt you badly. Remember the feelings that their actions caused you to feel. Now try to visualize forgiving them, offering them mercy for their wrong doings. In some cases it is an almost unimaginable thing and yet we are told the eye for an eye of the old testament was replaced by the turning of the other cheek in the new. Jesus told us to love one another unconditionally, even those who have wronged us. It’s an idealistic state of mind that is so incredibly difficult to achieve. We think of monsters whose actions were so egregious that it is impossible to feel anything other than loathing towards them, but I suspect that Jesus was talking less about such instances and more about the everyday encounters that we have with people who hurt us in small ways. Most of the ugliness that we endure is more in the realm of misunderstandings that pure evil.
I don’t believe that we are ever asked to be generous in our thoughts of people who knowingly and maliciously inflict emotional or physical harm on anyone, but rather to attempt to understand those who annoy us or to at least accept those whose differences confound us. We all agree that we dislike bullies and yet we sometimes unwittingly take on the characteristics of such boorish individuals when we ostracize someone because we don’t like or share his/her beliefs. We may complain about those who judge on the basis of the many isms and then classify someone in terms of characteristics rather than character.
I’ve often found that my initial impressions of people based on little real evidence have been very wrong. That rich snooty looking girl in my class was exceedingly nice. The older woman with whom I worked turned out to be tons more fun than many younger folks. That man with grease under his fingernails and a tough exterior on his face was kind and generous. The class clown was hiding deep hurts. The mom who cussed me out was deeply worried about her child. The newly released convict with a shaved head and tears tattooed all over his face became one of my greatest protectors and allies. The guy with Make America Great Again stickers plastered all over his car was doing more for those in need than any die hard liberal I have ever known. In other words we often see only the surface of a person and then feel anger or aversion toward them. I think that our command to love them is a command to know them before shutting them out of our lives.
I have a nice circle of friends and acquaintances. They are all good people as far as I can tell. I’ve been lucky enough to have had few encounters with ugliness, but when they occurred it was difficult to even consider the idea of forgiveness. I don’t think that we are ever expected to just lie down and endure the pain that comes with some people. We can and should walk away from them. It is unhealthy to submit to evil. They key to the kind of love that the Bible speaks of is to forgo the same kind of hate that has been inflicted on us and to be open to the idea of possible redemption.
I often think of the the examples that Jesus gave us. He forgave one of the thieves who hung on a cross next to His but did not ask the other thief to likewise beg for mercy. In other words we don’t have to deal with those who have no remorse for their horrific actions, but we also should not descend into the same kind of hate that they spew forth. Turning the other cheek sometimes means just removing them from our lives or at least keeping them at bay.
I am still working on having a forgiving spirit with a couple of people that I have known. One of them hurt my mother and the other hurt my daughter. I think it might have been easier for me to show them kindness and mercy had they aimed their barbs at me rather than two people that I loved. My protective instincts made me want to answer their ugliness with mine. Instead I removed them from my life. I’m still working on quelling the anger that I feel toward them. My Mama Bear instinct looms large, but I’ve come close to reaching a point of just pitying them for being so broken in spirit that they felt the need to tear down another person to feel better. Perhaps one day I may even feel some kindness toward them, because that is certainly the ideal way to be, but for now just keeping their evil away from me and those I love is the best that I can do.
Each of us is imperfect. We have weaknesses that show forth from time to time, but most people really do try very hard to be loving and kind to everyone. It’s not a bad goal to attempt to achieve. When we have a lapse perhaps we need to remember to be forgiving of ourselves as well and then try again. That’s really what all those words about love that Jesus spoke are all about. It’s not up to us to do as much judging as just remembering that we all make mistakes and have flaws that we can work on together rather than at odds. As we approach the Lenten season perhaps taking the time to better understand someone that confounds us is a more worthy sacrifice than giving up sugar or staying away from Facebook. In fact, perhaps a lovely thing to do might be to hold out an olive branch to someone who annoys us. This is what I believe was meant by turning the other cheek.