Sponging Out Evil
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 5:39 (ESV))
This verse has always struck me as a pain in the cheek. Though once it was a pain in a friend's cheek. We were standing in line in a high school P.E. class, waiting for the coach to show up. Harry, your classic bully, started insulting my friend, Steve, and then just slapped him in the face. There was a stunned silence as everyone wondered what was going to happen next. Steve was a small, nerdish-type guy who wasn't about to fight back.
That's when I said, "Harry, quit picking on him." Harry walked up to me, put his nose near mine, and said, "What you going to do about it, Galli?"
Harry had been getting on my nerves for a while. He was about 20 pounds lighter than me, so I figured I could have him on the ground and crying for mercy in 20 seconds, max. That would have felt pretty good. It's rare to be confronted physically like this. More often, we're assaulted by words—when someone tells lies about us or insults us. Things can get pretty tense when that happens, and we wonder what we should do.
Jesus—who put up with insults and slappings and worse—simply said this: "Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." When we're challenged or insulted or assaulted, instinct says, "Defend yourself." "Stand up for your rights." "Nobody talks to you this way!" "Show them a thing or two."
But Jesus says, "Don't go there. It's not about you and your rights. It's about overcoming evil. And the only way to finally conquer this brand of evil is by absorbing it." Think about it this way: When water is poured on a rock, the rock's hardness simply repels the water, which now splashes all over the place. But when water is poured on a sponge, it soaks it up. It's kind of like that with evil. We can resist it with hard words or actions, but it will only spread. Or we can, in a small way, stop it from spreading if we absorb it in love.
This takes a lot of humility. And patience. And help from God. But it can be done. When Harry said, "What you going to do about it, Galli?" I knew my options were limited. If I swung at him, we'd be in a big fight, and then no matter who won, we'd be enemies forever. There'd be lots of bad blood and more fights to come in the months ahead. Maybe others would get involved. There'd be lots of water splashing all over the place.
I simply said, "Look Harry, I'm not going to fight you." Then I added, "But I want you to stop bothering Steve." My heart was beating pretty fast, and after what seemed like an hour (it was probably only 5 seconds), he walked away. I quietly let out a sigh of relief. Harry and I didn't become best friends—to say the least. But his hostility toward Steve and me stopped where it began.
Does Jesus mean that you should stand by and do nothing if a friend is getting attacked, or that armies shouldn't defend their citizens against terrorists? Hardly. Most Christians believe there is a place for defending victims of such aggression (see Romans 13:1-7). And no one should just take physical abuse from a spouse or parent, or just allow someone to sexually assault you. Such extreme evil must be checked by force (that's why we have police), and will not finally be conquered until Jesus comes to establish his just kingdom.
In the meantime, Jesus says that the everyday evil of insults and slaps and slander can be overcome. How? By soaking it up, in love.
Written by Mark Galli
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