Updated: May 7, 2022
It’s been a few weeks since the “slap heard around the world.” If you have no idea what I’m referring to, then you have not been on the Internet, watched the news, or read the newspaper recently. A lot of the world has been buzzing over the iconic Will Smith slapping one of the most famous comedians of the modern era, Chris Rock.
There has been a lot of analysis of this incident. Psychologists, comedians, actors, news anchors, talk show hosts, & celebrities from all walks of life have weighed in. I’m not any of the former mentioned experts, but I am a pastor. One who searches for spiritual implications & illustrations in current events…and boy was this an event to remember.
It’s obvious that both Chris and Will were wrong in this incident. But you can read other people's opinions on the matter via a simple Google search. Rather than join in the trend of sharing my opinion on the matter, I’d like to make an observation. I would like to focus on one part of the altercation that took place on the largest award stage in Hollywood. Let us contemplate Chris Rock’s reaction to the slap.
It was obvious that Chris had no idea what Smith’s intentions were when he got up on the stage. Chris jokingly muttered “King Richard” as Smith approached him. This is in reference to the role where Smith portrayed Serena and Venus Williams’ father. Chris’ body language also indicated that he didn’t know what was coming as he leaned forward.
After the slap, Chris was in obvious shock. The interesting thing is that he kept smiling. He also mumbled “...I could…” as if he was processing whether he should respond with an insult, after all, he is an incredibly quick witted comedian. Instead, Rock responded with a light-hearted joke. “That was … uh … greatest night in the history of television.” The show went on as he continued presenting the nominees for an Academy Award. Later it was reported that Chris Rock was asked if he wanted Smith arrested, and/or if he wanted to press charges. Chris declined both offers.
This situation made me think about the “Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus shared many key points with his disciples. One of the most familiar is:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. -Matthew 5:38-39
In the Old Testament times, it was permissible to give equal payback to someone who did something to you. If you were hurt, the understanding was that there would be a comparable punishment. Yet Jesus calls his disciples to avoid retaliation. This alone is difficult enough, but then Jesus also challenges them to go further. It’s not enough to avoid striking back, Jesus then says to turn the other cheek. This challenge defies common sense. If someone gets hit, why would that person make themselves vulnerable to get slapped again?
Jesus was teaching about mercy and grace. If we get hit, the impulse will most likely be to hit back. The temptation is always to take matters into our own hands. But Jesus is calling us to let go of control. When we get hit, we must fight our instincts to get revenge. On top of that, we must turn our head to expose the other side of our face. Jesus is asking us to not RETALIATE, but instead ROTATE.
In life we will get hit. If not physically, people will hit us in other ways. From unfair treatment, to verbal insults, to gossip…it’s a broken world, full of sinners (us included). We must expect that we will get hit. So how do we avoid RETALIATION and practice ROTATION? The simple answer is Jesus. As Christians, it is only through our relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit living within us that we can exhibit any type of behavior that looks like God.
Now to be clear, I’m not saying Chris Rock was perfect in this situation. He told a joke that crossed the line. But many would say that Chris Rock’s response to the slap was interesting. Whether he was in shock, or afraid, it is clear that Chris avoided RETALIATION. By choosing not to press charges, he practiced ROTATION.
As the celebrity Liam Payne put it, “I felt like there were three losers in one fight.” In truth, Chris Rock, Will Smith, and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith all will have to deal with the fallout of this incident. But there is a lesson we can take away as we contemplate Chris Rock’s initial reaction that night. Avoid RETALIATION and practice ROTATION.
It’s not enough to avoid fighting back, we must also turn the other cheek. When we turn our cheek, we make ourselves vulnerable. We can’t avoid vulnerability if we want to express mercy, grace, and love. This is our call as Christians. May this be our practice when we get hit by others in life.