“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.” (Matthew 5:38–42 NLT)
Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called those who worked for peace as blessed, but here he includes a short primer on what that could look like. As Shane Claiborne writes in his book Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, “Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice.”
When Jesus tells his followers to offer the other cheek, to give their coats, and to walk the extra mile, he is telling them to subvert the typical power structures that favor those at the top at the expense of those at the bottom. Bowing to their requests by passively submitting does nothing to change the corrupt system in place, and denying their requests and thereby denying the authority of those making them often only serves to further sanction the use of unjust power over others.
Instead, choosing Jesus’s third way points out the unreasonableness of the request. It is saying, “If you want to sue me for the clothes off my back, take my coat as well, leaving me naked in the courtroom.” Claiborne goes on to write that peacemaking “is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.” Though it is not easy, and it often goes against our instinctual response, may we learn to choose the revolution of love found in Jesus’s third way.