All Christians can learn something from Pope Francis’s recent speech explaining how the seemingly impossible “turning the other cheek” and “loving your enemies” works to defeat hatred and overcome evil with good.

The Jesus challenge: Turn the other cheek and love your enemies

“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.”

– Matthew 5:38-39

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”

– Matthew 5:43-44

The above quotes come from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5 in the New Testament.

Jesus speaks in more detail, and it’s recommended to read through all of Matthew 5 for a proper perspective. In essence, Jesus is teaching that love is the only thing that defeats evil. How can we be good if we hate our enemy and have no love? We sin, and that makes us evil. Yet God forgives us. We must be loving like God. We cannot return evil for evil – otherwise, we are no better. We must return the love. We must forgive. If we cannot forgive, God cannot forgive us.

Pope Francis: To defeat evil, must turn the other cheek and love our enemy

On Sunday, February 12, speaking to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square gathered for the Angelus, the Pope spoke on the teachings Jesus gave in Matthew five of turning the other cheek and loving our enemies, the Catholic News Agency reported.

“When we hear this, it seems that the Lord asks the impossible,” Pope Francis said. “Besides, why love enemies? If you do not react to the bullies, every abuse is given the green light.”

The Pope acknowledged that doing these can be among “the most difficult situations” we encounter, especially those placed before our enemies and those who “always try to harm us.”

“Turning the other cheek is not the loser’s fallback, but the action of those who have greater inner strength,” the Pope pointed out. “Turning the other cheek is to overcome evil with good, which opens a breach in the heart of the enemy, unmasking the absurdity of his hatred. And this attitude, this turning the other cheek, is not dictated by calculation or hatred, but by love.”

Jesus shows how to defuse resentment with kindness

The Pope explained that turning the other cheek does not mean “suffering in silence” or “giving into injustice.”

The Pope referenced when Jesus was brought before the high priest and was struck by a guard. Jesus could have avenged himself but did not. 

“Jesus answered him, ‘If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?'”

– John 18:23

“With his question, Jesus denounces what is unjust,” the Pope said. “But he does it without anger, without violence, indeed with kindness. He does not want to trigger an argument, but to defuse resentment, this is important: extinguish hatred and injustice together, trying to rescue the guilty brother.”

“This is not easy, but Jesus did it, and he tells us to do it too,” the Pope continued. “This is turning the other cheek: Jesus’ meekness is a stronger response than the blow he received.”

How can a person possibly love their enemies?

The Pope responded to a common question of whether or not it is possible for a person to love his or her enemies.

“If it depended only on us, it would be impossible,” Pope Francis said. “But let us recall that, when the Lord asks for something, he wishes to give it. When he tells me to love my enemies, he wants to give me the capacity to do so.”

“What should we ask of him?” The Pope continued. “What is God happy to give us?”

“The strength to love, which is not a thing, but rather the Holy Spirit, and with the Spirit of Jesus, we can respond to evil with good,” the Pope added. “We can love those who do us harm. This is what Christians do. How sad it is when people and populations proud of being Christians see others as enemies and think to wage war against each other!”