St Benedict identifies the fourth step of the ladder of humility with aspects of the discipleship to which Jesus calls us: “When struck on one cheek the humble monk turns the other” and so forth.

This brings up one of the most important principles of community life, which is that each of us has a teaching office amongst each other, and each of us is a learner. On the way of humility and growth in Christ each of us is engaged in becoming a human being, a conscious actor rather than a bundle of reactions to various provocations or perceived threats. The virtue of humility, if it is true, brings us to a stability that can be neither provoked nor threatened. It makes us more human.

If in a rage someone strikes another, whether verbally or physically, the one “offering the other cheek as well” not only thereby takes charge of the situation, but makes a space in which the aggressor is required to choose whether to strike again. It is a way of offering the aggressor a chance to reclaim their own humanity. This is a moment, however brief, when graced justice and learning can happen. It is a space of immense risk: one may end up literally crucified. “Offering the other cheek” in humility can also mean offering not a literal response but a figurative one: drawing unambiguous boundaries with a quiet or firm refusal in the face of aggression or malice.

In the ordinarily very gentle jostling of community life we serve as mirrors for one another. We are teachers of the law of love, and constant students, helping each other to discover our unthinkingness and ignorances, and to chose a better way.


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