Last year I was hurt by a close friend, and my reaction was to cause hurt in return. Actually, it may have been the other way around. The entire incident was so passive and internal that it’s hard to say how it all started.
Either way, it resulted in sulks, resentment, licking of wounds, and finally, grudging apologies. We’ve been on relationship probation ever since. When we see each other out in public, we smile and try too hard—neither one admitting our resentment. Feeling like I was owed something, I never made an attempt to mend our relationship. Why should I give in first? After all, it would be foolish to make myself vulnerable to that person.
But the last time I checked, Jesus doesn’t bless the ones who hold out the longest for an apology. In my reading of Matthew, I found quite the opposite: He blesses the peacemakers. And in the Sermon on the Mount, He shows us exactly what peacemaking entails:
“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt 5:23–24).
Jesus doesn’t say “go and ask for an apology,” “go and make excuses for your behavior,” or even “go and tell your side of the story.” He says go and be reconciled.
Jesus goes on to explain what a response to being wronged looks like:
“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” (Matt 5:38–42).
He uses examples of some very public wrongs—a slap across the cheek and a lawsuit.
It’s often harder to back down if it means losing face. I don’t swallow my pride easily, and I know exactly what I would do if I were literally slapped across the face: I’d turn the other cheek with such an exaggerated, provoking attitude that I would deserve that follow-up slap.
Jesus is describing a much more humble attitude—one that perhaps includes a tacit recognition of the other person’s hurt or anger.
His words within the Lord’s Prayer are a reminder of why we should forgive: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt 6:12).
Forgiveness isn’t grudging or passive—it’s actively showing acceptance. And it’s not contingent on whether I feel the other person is deserving of that forgiveness. It’s in response to the unbelievable and undeserved forgiveness that Christ offers me.
Biblical references are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).