The bells, the bells, the bells which ruined my blessed sleep on the first Saturday of the occupation barely register anymore, having merged into the general background, but who ever imagined that all this Jesus-talk would become so normal? On the cathedral steps, everyone has become a theologian, taking up whips against the money-changers and rendering unto Caesar what is his.
We seem to have agreed that social justice and consideration for the poor are fundamental Christian values, and, along with several important men in frocks, we are prepared to make sacrifices for them. But what kind of tactics does scripture suggest?
“Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt 5:39)
This must be one of the best known Biblical passages, and one of the least understood, because whilst it appears to be a piece of masochistic nonsense designed to enslave you for generations, it is in fact a subversive’s crowbar.
A strike “on thy right cheek” from a right-handed attacker must be a roundhouse punch or a back-hand slap. Seeing as Judea is a long way from Shaolin, we can assume the latter, which was commonly delivered by Roman men to their slaves, wives and children. It was not intended to injure, otherwise it would have landed firmly on the left cheek. It simply reinforces a hierarchy.
Turning the other cheek challenges that hierarchy. Having failed to overwhelm his subordinate with symbolic violence, the bully finds himself with his right hand at his right side, a left cheek taunting him, and a choice to make. He could back down. He could call his guards, and reveal his cowardice. Or, if he still has the courage, he could strike again, fist-to-face as an equal. But whatever he does, he is forced to consider his subordinate as an individual, a person with their own will rather than a slave subject to his.
Cool-headed and strategic civil disobedience is much wiser than flinging yourself at entrenched and armed authorities, as the Macabeean martyrs discovered in 117BC, and as you will discover if you punch a copper.
The verse immediately after the turning of the cheek goes from bully to banker:
“And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.” (Matt 5:40)
Under Jewish law, a creditor could take a man’s final possession, his coat, in lieu of monies owed. He had to return it, however, at sunset, because the poor man had to sleep in it. (Deu 24:13) Our Lord of discord suggests that, rather than waiting for small mercies, the debtor should give up his final layer as well, indecently exposing himself and exposing his creditor’s indecent greed. Worldwide, the homeless, the indebted and the indignant are occupying the streets together to expose the greed of their creditors.
“Resist not evil” is misleading, because anthistemi does not refer to all forms of resistance. “Do not stand fast / cause insurrection against evil” would be more faithful to the Greek (anti: against + histemi: stand / make firm), and it makes more sense given the rest of the chapter.
The King James Bible is full of such deliberate acts of mistranslation and misdirection. It was translated in 1611 as England fizzed with revolution, six years after the gunpowder plot, and with civil war looming. King James demanded a new Bible that was neither controversial nor provocative, and he got it, because then as now the media was controlled by the Man. That was exactly 400 years ago, and 400 years is quite long enough for slavery.
One little reverend can’t remove all the bad words from the good book, but allow me another dab at the Sermon on the Mount, because it really is a subversive’s cookbook:
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
It is said that religion keeps the masses oppressed, promising rewards in the afterlife so we accept our lot on earth.This may be true of many forms of Christianity, but it is not true of scripture. The Greek word translated above as “heaven” is ouranos, but it also means universe or world. Often “heaven”, as in the place you go after you die if you behave yourself, makes no sense at all in context (see Rev. 21:3).
Therefore resist, my brothers and sisters in chaos and Christ, because if we keep level-headed and pay attention to detail, the entire world can be ours.