Another scene in the films recounts how a young Christian Minister, Rev. Charlie Andrew...
"Doesn't the New Testament say, 'If your enemy strikes you on the right cheek, offer him your left'?"
Andrews looks rather bemused by Gandhi's sudded desire to quote Bible verses. "I think perhaps the phrase was used metaphorically."
"I am not so sure." Gandhi counters. "I have thought about it a great deal, and I suspect Jesus meant that you must show courage. Be willing to take a blow, several blows, to show you will not strike back nor will you be turned aside. And when you do that, it calls on something in human nature, something that makes his hatred for you decrease and his respect increase. I think Jesus grasped that, and I have seen it work."
The verse the movie Gandhi is talking about is Matthew 5: 39, and it goes like this...
But I say to you, That ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite the on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Ok, so, how are we to take this?
Well, it is in the context of what is called the Sermon on the Mount. Earlier in the same chapter, the Sermon begins with Jesus' list of those who are Blessed. A bit after that, there is his list of "You have heard it said..., but I say" statements, and 39 is in one of those.
So, what are some of those things that Jesus said in the "...but I say..." statements?
Be careful about being angry without a cause, or insulting someone.
If you have lust problems, put your eye out.
If your right hand keeps getting you in trouble (considering the context, it probably means you can't keep it off other women), chop it off.
A man who divorces his wife without just cause makes her an adultress, and the man who marries her is an adulterer.
Don't make vows.
It's an interesting list. Let's look at it.
Ok, so, how 'literally' do we take any and all of these?
For example, how literally are we men to take the commands to dismember ourselves if we can't keep our eyes and hands off of women, at least in a lustful way? Usually, not very literally.
What about the one about vows? Would promises fit in there? I'm not sure, though I wouldn't doubt it. Still, we do recognize some vows. Marriage vows, for example, or those in courts. Some churches have various kinds of things they want people to commit to, or events like fasts or prayer sessions of whatever kinds that they want commitments to.
What about anger? That's usually seen more literally, though not completely. We do tend to think a spade should be called what it is.
And the divorce question is one that is very much pertinent today. I'm unsure what the general view is on that.
So, with all of this, what are we to make of the command to "turn the other cheek"? Is it metaphorical? Is it an impossible ideal? Is it to be taken literally in all situation? Is it like the commands to lop off hands and poke out eyes?
Let me give another example, from a few verse later, in 42. "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away".
How literally are we to take this command? For example, if you are watching TV and see a well-heeled faith-healer on there talking about how his 'ministry' is going to go under if you don't plant a seed of $10,000 right now and God will surely make you a millionaire and keep you from the flu this next winter if you do so, does this verse mean that you are to send $10,000 to this charlatan because you had the misfortune of watching TV when he was on asking you for it? Or if your ne'er-do-well Cousin Bruno asks you for a few thousand bucks to help fund him in his next sure-to-fail get-rich-quick scheme, are you obligated to help him?
I think most of us would say "No" to both of those scenarios, and can easily recognize others. I think we know that we are to use our knowledge and wisdom in determining how best to help others.
So, too, do I think the same in regards to "Turn the other cheek". Perhaps the movie Gandhi was not far off when he said it was about courage, but I don't think it was about pacifism.
Rather, it is about wisdom.
In the whole of the NT, there are three instances when interactions with soldiers are mentioned--when some came to John the Baptist for advice, when a Centurion came to Jesus to ask for his servant to be healed, and when Peter was sent to Cornelius' house as the beginning of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles.
In none of these are soldiers told to stop being soldiers. They are not told to leave the army. Nor are they told to stay in the army but not fight.
The "Turn the other cheek" text is an interesting one to try to understand, and I'm certainly open to being corrected on it. But if you're going to say that should be taken absolutely literally, I'm going to want you to send photos of yourself with your eyes gouged out and your right hand chopped off, and I'm going to ask you for all the money you got, so you'd best be ready to pony up.