Neon Genesis Evangelion is full of memorable scenes. Among those is an early one featuring Shinji and Rei on an escalator. Shinji, full of anger toward his father, expresses his frustration. The mostly emotionless Rei responds in a surprising way – by slapping her fellow pilot.
If Ikari had been a Christian (like Misato?), perhaps he would have literally turned the other cheek. After all, this was instruction provided by Jesus. Then again, maybe he would have been interpreting that instruction wrongly. In his book, Gospel: Recovering the Power That Made Christianity Revolutionary, J.D. Greear posits that the cheek was symbolic of relationships to Jews in Jesus’ time. Striking the cheek meant to break that relationship, while offering the other meant to “reoffer” the relationship.
This reminds me of another scene in Evangelion that happens just a few episodes later. Shinji, still stung by years of neglect, begins to speak to his father again. They visit a gravestone commemorating Shinji’s mother and have some tender words (as much as they are capable of). It would be a monumental step toward reestablishing relationship – toward turning the other cheek – if not for the irredeemable spirit that is Gendo Ikari.
Most of the people we come into contact with are quite unlike Gendo; though they may be full of pride, most are still willing to bend somewhat. And when we understand the radical love that can transform our lives, and how irredeemable we ourselves are, we are able to step forward and offer the other cheek to difficult people we know.
Last week, for instance, I had dinner with an old roommate. We were once great friends, though our relationship quickly devolved into antagonism that even led to physical altercations. I’ve retained a bit of bitterness even after all these years. Still, I decided to reach out to him and give him a visit. Though we’ll never be close again, I was happy to rekindle that old friendship, at least a bit, and move closer to fully forgiving him for the hurt he caused me.
And I think that’s lesson here – whatever the hurt that’s caused, whether it’s a physical slap on the cheek or a relational one, we can respond with grace. And if we understand the grace that’s been measured to us, it becomes quite natural to swivel our heads and reopen that which may have been intentionally closed forever.