When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one to him as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand him your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go with him for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow."
Whenever we read the Sermon on the Mount we should ponder our current situation. If we cannot hear the roar of current events in the quiet sanctuary of our church, we will find it lapping at our knees like an overflowing river as we wade back to our cars. In 2018 the brilliant revelation of the Gospel commingles with the revelations of the MeToo movement.
Feminist critics rightly complain that this passage sounds like a man's advice to men. Turn the other cheek; hand him your cloak, go the extra mile, give to anyone who asks: these verses are advice to the powerful who don't have to answer to the more powerful for what they have done.
At the end of every retreat, as the Director of Retreats, I asked every group for a generous donation. I hoped they might "give to the one who asks." Though I asked the same "average" amount of both groups, the men always gave more than the women. I eventually realized husbands don't have to answer to their wives in exactly the same way as wives to their husbands. Men feel more freedom to give as much as they want, while women often have to answer to someone else. Perhaps it shouldn't be that way, but that's the way it is.
With his "turn the other cheek," I don't believe Jesus is teaching women or men to be passive in the face of aggression. The Holy Spirit is not a passive spirit even when it counsels silence, listening, watching and waiting. Those are active responses of the attentive Christian.
Always, the first response of the Christian complies with the Holy Spirit. We have received that Guiding Spirit from Jesus and we pray daily for a keener, more sensitive responsiveness to that Spirit. We should soar in the Spirit like the eagle whose outstretched, feathery "fingers" feel the most delicate motions of air.
The Sermon on the Mount is not simply a handbook of what to do and not do. Rather, it helps us recognize the subtle movements of the Holy Spirit. When someone wants to go to law with you over your coat, perhaps the Spirit will say, "Hand him your coat as well!" If someone presses you into service for one mile, the Spirit might whisper, "Go the extra mile."
Without those verses in the Bible, the idea -- as you hear the Spirit's whisper -- might seem too ridiculous, too unconventional. "No one does that!" you might think. But you have heard them announced in Church during the Mass; and, as odd as they seemed at the time, in this moment, under these circumstances, Jesus' teaching suddenly make sense! In fact they appeal to you and bring a mischievous grin to your face. "I can do this!" you say.
I am quite sure the Holy Spirit has prompted thousands of women to speak up; to organize, protest and demand changes in the way we do business, entertainment, sports, religion and politics. Sexual harassment, exploitation and rape are SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) in too many organizations. MeToo means "I have been slapped in the face!" By publicly acknowledging that humiliation a woman "turns the other cheek." Someone indeed might slap her a second time but it will be a public event, perhaps in a court of law where the world can see who is wicked and who is innocent.
Will this movement by exploited by wicked persons? Of course it will. Just as they exploit the names God, Jesus and Christian, the Bible and the Church. And some men will claim to be victims of MeToo. There's no more exploitable word than victim.
That doesn't mean MeToo is not inspired by the Lord. Just when you thought the world was too corrupt for God's mercy to appear anywhere, it surges like a torrent and purifies the land.