You have heard it said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", but I tell you, if someone slaps your right cheek, turn to him the other also."
I remember with great clarity the last time someone slapped me in the face. I remember it like it was, well, never. I don't know that I even know anyone who's ever actually been slapped in the face. I mean really - who does that?
So when I read the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount where he tells us to turn the other cheek, I kind of think it doesn't even apply to me. As I've been memorizing Matthew, chapters 5-7, I've been thinking more intently about what his commands mean for life today and how I can apply them to the situations I encounter. This morning I had just such an opportunity.
I had a conflict with a co-worker (let's call him Tony). I gave him requirements for a video clip I was producing. He worked on it for about a day, but when he delivered the video to me, it didn't meet the requirements I asked for. Not cool for either one of us. I didn't get the video I needed, and now we both would have to do extra work to go back and make it right.
Even though I was certain that I had provided Tony with the necessary information, I referred to the incident as a miscommunication when it came up in a meeting of several of our colleagues, so as not to shame him publicly for his error. But Tony wasn't having any of that. He was intent on making sure that everyone knew it my mistake, my error, my failing that had caused him to waste an entire day on a project. At least three times, he blamed me in front of the room and made it very clear that he was angry and that I had "done it wrong."
Stunned, I stammered my response, trying to sort out his accusations in my mind, but refusing to address them. My defenses went up high and hot, but I didn't retaliate. I said that I had a different recollection of our conversation, apologized if my communication to him lacked clarity and offered to give him more specific directions about what I was looking for.
He again expressed how annoyed he was that I had wasted an entire day of his time.
Staggering a bit and aware that all eyes in the room were on me, I said, "I don't know what you want me to say. All I can do is offer to begin again."
The meeting broke up but it was difficult for me to get through the morning because my emotions hounded me to defend myself, to find a way to attack him back, to provide evidence in the court of my colleagues that I did not, in fact, waste several hundred dollars in productivity. I kept thinking about all the ways in which I could prove him wrong. There were other people in the meeting where the requirements for the project were defined. I could get them to testify for me, to agree that I gave Tony the correct instructions. I could also dig up proof from my sent emails, and I could confront him with facts that he conveniently omitted.
Yet none of it would matter, because the work still wouldn't be done correctly. And I wouldn't get unslapped. It would only make a difference if I was intent of on deflecting the blame and placing it on him.
I didn't really know what to do, but I was able to recognize how useless it would have been to pursue self-vindication. I would have gotten angrier, I would have looked petty in front of everyone, and I may have caused more damage to my relationship with Tony, someone I needed to be able to work with closely every day. All I knew was that saying nothing and doing nothing felt like the right response for the time being. So I wrangled my severely bruised ego, and that's what I did. I went back to my desk, and tried to focus on my work.
Throughout the morning, three different people came to me separately to offer me their support. One of them told me she loved me. Another one told me that everyone knew I had been treated unfairly. Someone gave me a chocolate.
If I had been lured into an argument during the meeting or gone around afterwards spouting off about Tony's behavior and trying to discredit him, I would not have been turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, or offering my cloak. Jesus' objective in providing all of those examples was to show us that the principle of not insisting on fairness and not indulging in retaliation can be applied to any situation. Even to a video project at your job. I was attacked and I didn't retaliate. I was slapped and I didn't slap back. In the end, I didn't have to. It was so much sweeter that other people validated my position for me.
Jesus knew what he was talking about. Experiment with it sometime and see what happens. I'll be over here, basking in love and eating my chocolate.