By Norris Burkes April 10, 2022
In the midst of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, new Covid strands and obscene housing prices, allow me to interrupt the cray-cray* to replay the slap heard round the world.
In case you’ve been in church all week, you may not have seen Will Smith slap fellow actor Chris Rock on the Oscar stage over a perceived slight of Smith’s wife.
While the whack wasn’t nearly as hard as Smith’s alien smackdown in the 1996 movie, “Independence Day,” the Academy did consider asking Smith to leave. Instead, they invited him back on stage to accept his Oscar.
Why rehash this in a spiritual column? Especially on Palm Sunday. Because it’s hard not to admire how Rock may have followed the biblical teaching to “turn the other cheek.”
In case it’s been a month of Sundays since you’ve darkened the church doors, you may need to be reminded that “turning the other cheek” is something Jesus suggested his followers do if they were to be slapped silly by anyone.
Context here — Jesus is preaching the Sermon on the Mount, when he decries the ancient credo of revenge, “‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth’ (Matthew 5:38).
“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.” Jesus says. “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (v. 39).
Sadly, the passage is often used to encourage Christians to accept their predicament. “Don’t fight back!” the teaching goes. “Be a pacifist.”
However, Rock’s response was much better than just not striking back. He may well have been reminded of the wisdom of his late grandfather, Allan Rock.
The elder Rock, a Brooklyn storefront church pastor, would have likely preached the nonviolent resistance promoted by Martin Luther King.
King would say that when the Galilean carpenter said turn the other cheek, he wasn’t advising the slave to beg, “Please, sir. May I have another?”
Jesus was promoting a nonviolent, defensive stance. To imagine this next paragraph, picture a slave receiving a backhanded assault. (You may need to act this out with a partner or mannequin to get the idea.)
If the victim then turns his other cheek toward the abuser, he limits the next hit to an openhanded slap.
This is important because Biblical scholars identify the openhanded slap as something exchanged only among equals. The slave who turns the other cheek, forcing an openhand slap, obliges his attacker to see him as an equal.
Rock’s response to the attack may be seen as a figurative turning of the cheek. The emcee kept a smile on his face and his hands behind his back. The stance forced his attacker to see Rock as a man equal to himself, equal to all humankind.
However, Chris, in case you’re reading this, there’s a second teaching that surpasses the overtaught cheek reversing. It’s one I hope you’ll consider as you develop your public reply to the incident.
This higher principle is found in the next chapter, verse 12, where the Lord’s prayer says that God will “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Forgive, Chris. Be the better man. Take the higher road and publicly forgive Will.
Only by forgiving those who trespass against you will you be able to avoid the ominous postscript to this prayer, seen three verses later. “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
We now return you to the cray-cray of your regular programming.
Reader Note: “Cray-cray” is slang for crazy. In a USA Today piece, Erika Rawes says it’s one of five phrases that don’t belong in the workplace. However, she admits it became so popular that “cray” is now in the Oxford Dictionary.” USA Today Dec 13. 2014.
I promise, Erika, I’ll never use it again in my column.