I am reading the Sermon on the Mount right now. Or maybe … it is reading me. Seems to be a theme in my life.
Anyway, something struck me the other morning in Matthew’s account of the greatest sermon ever preached. It was a comment Jesus made to the gathered listeners on the side of a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee, a crowd that consisted of Jewish peasants, farmers, rural artisans and nationalistic Roman-haters.
The comment was made in reference to the occupying Roman (read “gentile, pagan, unwanted, despised”) powers. Caesar had appointed a puppet king in Herod, who is famous for his amazing building projects as well as his insecurities and manic fits of murderous rage (he slaughtered members of his own family in paranoia that they were plotting to overthrow him). One of his sons was ruling Israel when Jesus preached these words and Jewish nationalism was at a fevered pitch.
It was in this context that Jesus said, essentially, “… if a man asks you to walk a mile with him, do it. Then walk another mile with him.”
Scandalous! Unheard of! Jesus was clearly referring to the Roman law that allowed any Roman soldier to stop a Jewish man on the road and compel him to drop what he was carrying in order to assist the Roman soldier in bearing his load. Or, the solider could have simply made the Jew carry his load out of laziness or a power trip.
But the law only required the Israelite to walk one mile for the solider. Not two. Only one. So Jesus tells his listeners to go beyond obligation. The second mile is not an obligation, it is an opportunity.
We quit too quick. We want to get by with the absolute minimum. We bail out after our obligation is completed. In looking for the easiest path we fail to develop the muscle and the endurance for the second mile and we miss the opportunity that most often lies in doing the difficult and denying our rights to rest, relaxation and respite.
The point in demanding that the Jews walk two miles was for them to show the Romans that they were different from them. They did not demand, they offered. They did not compel, they invited. The children of Israel were operating from a different worldview, one of simplicity and goodness and virtue found in the God of scripture.
The Romans operated from a worldview of power, conquest and greed. Roman hearts could be won, one at a time, by simple acts of radical service that went contrary to the expectation. Freedom was to come not from a Jewish uprising or a revolt, but from the internal liberty of being free to serve your enemy, testifying to the transforming power of God in a person’s soul.
The only way for the good to win over the evil was to go beyond the expectation. The second mile in our lives makes the “Roman” world ask why we would go the extra distance under such a heavy burden.
The second mile opens up conversations that would never happen in the first mile. The second mile makes us better humans and better Christians. It builds the muscle we need to carry the Gospel and the endurance we need to remain faithful through the seasons of life and not just for a season of life.
Go beyond obligation. You will only find opportunity when you walk the second mile. And don’t worry about the burden wearing you out. You can rest when you reach your destination.