I’m not good at taking insults and criticism.

One of my least favorite passages of scripture is when Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: “If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:39)

Are you good at turning the other cheek? Do you know anybody who takes a punch to one side of the face only to say, “Hit me again on the other?”.

Jesus taught in hyperbole. I don’t think that he was teaching we should allow ourselves to be mauled and abused. So, what was he saying?

If you continue reading Matthew 5 it says: “If someone slaps you on the right cheek and you turn to him the other cheek, and that someone slaps you again, now you slam him to the ground with a wrestling body throw, and while holding him to the ground, you punch his lights out.”  

It doesn’t say this in the Bible! It is the way I feel when I’m insulted or receive unjust criticism. And my problem as a pastor is that I must turn the other cheek even when I don’t feel like it. It’s my profession; I have to be calm at all times.

As a follower of Christ – as a spouse, as a co-worker, as a business owner – you have to restrain your emotions as well.

I can say that I extremely dislike the idea of turning the other cheek. I confess that as a pastor – my calling as a pastor – has been the only thing keeping me from lambasting back at hurled insults. One of the tools of my trade is being quick of tongue. What I often think about what I could say to a person concerning their ill-timed or ill-considered comments, could and would whittle their “high and mightiness” to a puddle of defeat, embarrassment, and shame.

When I finished my verbal response, the offender would think not twice, but 20 times, before criticizing me again.

Warning: Beware of Pastor Grant the next time you say to me: “Pastor, can I be honest with you?”.

Confession: If I did respond at any time with a verbal lambast to you or others, I would be miserable afterwards. The satisfaction of my revenge would not be enough to justify seeing your pain and humiliation. I would quickly forget your insults directed toward me and be saddened with how I hurt you.

Another Confession: I would rather receive your insults and criticisms, turning the other cheek, than respond in kind. After years of practice – and I’ve had a lot of practice – I find comfort in shutting up and allowing you to vent. I know that you are in pain and perhaps, if I can carry some of it for you, you will find a moment of comfort.

I pray that you find peace. Your insults toward me (or others) are not about me or others or even God – it is about what others and life have brought against you and what you have done to others. You feel angry and guilty. Screaming and yelling becomes your attempted path of release that only brings louder screaming and yelling later.

Fear will never bring you peace. If I listen and pray, maybe you will stop screaming.

Jesus did say in Matthew 5: “Pray for those who persecute you.”

Here is what I have learned that enables me to turn the other cheek: I visualize myself as Jesus and you as myself. Yep, radical, but it works. It is hard to get mad at yourself. It is even harder for Jesus to get mad at you – for anything.

I find forgiveness, peace, and the ability to turn the other cheek, by turning the other cheek. And while I hate to do it, I have changed through the years – I enjoy it more and more. The cheek that I turn is the cheek of Jesus since Christ is in me!

Go ahead, the next time that you see me, say: “Pastor, can I be honest with you?”

I dare you!