“Going the second mile” originated with Jesus, but our interpretation of his teaching has lost its original meaning through a subtle watering down process.
We tend to think of going the extra mile as a way of saying that someone has gone above the call of duty, he’s put in more effort than was expected, maybe in hopes of some form of recognition or because he really cares about the end result. But, that idea doesn’t capture Jesus’ intent when he taught it in the first place.
“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” Matthew 5:41
The Twisted Law
This saying was Jesus’ response to the teachers of the law and the common practices of that era. The law of “an eye for an eye” had been twisted by man. God’s intention for the law was to place a limit on punishment that could be exacted for an offense. But, the teachers of the law had used it as permission for retaliation and revenge.
No matter what was practiced then, Jesus called his followers to live a life of peace. Not a life of retreat and relaxation, the way we think of peace these days. That’s not consistent with the way the Prince of Peace lived. Rather, the life of peace is proactive, counter-cultural, and directed by the Spirit of God.
Walking with the Enemy
In the days of Christ, the Romans were in charge, and a Roman soldier had the authority to force someone to carry his equipment for a mile. Imagine the resentment and outrage of a Jew compelled to carry the belongings of the enemy! An “unclean”, heathen enemy with the law on his side, no less. The resistance of the Jews is well-documented, as are their defeats at the hands of the Romans.
Why, then, would Christ say to “go with them two miles?” Why? Why? Why? Because of peace. Rome is and was the definition of an “evil empire.” And, Jesus was waging peace. And, approximately, three hundred years later, the pagan Roman Empire was conquered by Christianity.
Jesus conquered THE evil empire by peaceful means. The culture said, “Make war.” He submitted to death, carried the terrible burden of the cross and the sins of man, gave up every dignity (even his clothes), and prayed for his enemies.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you…”
If someone insults you with a back-handed slap, offer your other cheek. If someone cheats you, let it go. If someone forces you to walk one mile, go two miles. Give without expecting repayment. Pray for those who persecute you. Wage peace!
Let’s imagine that Roman soldier walking along with a Christ follower who puts peace into practice. How do they pass the time? The Christ follower goes the extra mile against the culture of the times. He talks the ear off of the Roman soldier about the Son of God. He shares the good news. He’s obedient to peace. He’s directed by the Spirit of God. The Word spreads.
If we follow his example, we fulfill Christ’s mission of peace. Grace will spread, peace will prevail, and evil is conquered. If not, conflict will escalate, wars will break out, and grace will go unclaimed.
For a great explanation of the way the law was practiced during Jesus’ day, see Jesus and the Law of Retaliation (Lex Talionis) Matthew 5:38-42 by James Davis.
How have you been called to practice peace? Please leave comments and questions below.