How aberrant is this statement in a dog-eat-dog world. No room for the weak when survival is reserved for the fittest, and to even suggest that one should take an insult without attempting some sort of comeback is sheer weakness to say the least.
We teach our kids to strike back when someone strikes them and we equip them with an answer for every occasion so that people don’t take advantage of them, let alone walk all over them. Justice is embodied in this age old phrase: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, and even if your religion doesn’t specifically say it, your own personal philosophy does. You can pretend otherwise but your true colors will eventually show when someone hits you on the cheek or perhaps slanders your mother.
When I was a kid fresh into school, peers would constantly make fun of my last name “Zayoun” and would call me “zayToun” instead which is arabic for “olive”. Looking back now, it makes me laugh, but to a 5 year-old, being the center of mockery for days in row and having to put up with being called “zaytoun w khyar” (olive and cucumber) or “zaytoun w labneh” (you can figure that out or just google labneh), well it finally gets to you. And being the sensitive kid that I was, I remember often going back to my parents and complaining about it and all I could get from them was not to answer back and ignore them kids. I remember this used to frustrate me, and I think had it been other parents things would’ve looked at lot more different. They would’ve probably taught me to hit whoever makes fun of me or at least smart-mouth them back. But fact of the matter is, a child learns primarily from observing his parents and my parents were simply, not like that. I can’t remember a single incident in my life where my father got into a fight with someone, and I’m pretty sure the worst thing I’ve ever heard him say angrily to someone (and not more than twice in my entire life) was “7ayawen” (animal) – That’s when hell broke loose. So growing up, I’ve always had this feeling that people could make fun of me whenever they wanted and being a person who never liked physical violence, I resorted to sarcasm as a defense mechanism which developed over the time to become more of a sense of humor. And I always felt like I needed to defend myself from verbal attacks, whether it was serious of just a joke, because when you don’t answer back you’re basically giving people a green light to make fun of you when they please.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But 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. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” – Matthew 5:38-42 (ESV)
If you read this passage without knowing exactly what Jesus means, you’d almost think he’s saying that in order to be loving you have to be weak. That’s what I struggled with for years since I read this passage and I couldn’t quite understand why Jesus would want me to be weak. How do you survive in a world that keeps attacking you when you can’t fight back?
Well truth of the matter is, Jesus knew exactly what he was talking about. Weakness in reality is doing the exact opposite of what he’s saying. Let’s take a deeper look into it. Let’s say someone offends you by saying something like: “you’re an idiot” and you get so angry that you hit him. How strong are you when you can’t control your anger but your anger controls you? Let’s say you don’t hit him, let’s say you blurt out “asshole” instead. Are you really that strong when you can’t even tame your tongue but your tongue has you tamed instead? How is it strength at all when you feel that you have to defend yourself any way you can lest your image crumbles into pieces? I would say this is insecurity extreme. Being strong is not the ability to retaliate but actually the self-sufficiency not to. Being strong is not striking back when offended but actually not being offended at all. That’s what Jesus did when he was mocked, ridiculed, spit at, flogged, hit with clubs and crucified. Was it weakness on his behalf when he had actually the authority to call upon legions of angels to his rescue had he wanted? (Matthew 26:53). I think not. I believe he was so secure in his identity as the immortal Son of God that nothing that was said or done to him could ever change that. And thus he set an example for us to follow, to actually walk in his footsteps.
God’s been teaching me lately not to defend myself anymore, under any circumstance. And whenever I find myself reverting back to my old habits I hear this voice in my head saying: “why do you feel you need to defend yourself? I AM your defendant and avenger” (Romans 12:19). It’s not that easy to do when you’ve been on the lookout all your life, but I can tell you it’s very rewarding to be able to sit back and relax in your identity as an immortal son of God.
I remember as a kid when I would complain to my dad about being called names like “donkey” per say, he would smile and tell me: “Well son, if you’re being called a donkey, does this make you a donkey?”. Some wisdom my father has, eh? The kind of wisdom I only get now, 20 years later.