Where did this phrase even come from? It’s not just a pretty idea for customer service or a nice thing to do for someone you care deeply about. This is hard stuff. Check out Matthew 5:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,[h] let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
The Larger Section is About Retaliation
This section is on not retaliating against those who wrong you. It is chalk full of legalistic language and references. The context is about choosing to demonstrate the same kind of immeasurable mercy and grace that God demonstrates to us when we interact with others who wrong us or demand something from us. The whole idea of the Jesus is calling his listeners to do something that is so radical and opposed to our sinful, revengeful nature that they can do no less than realize that they are desperately in need of a Savior. (To hear more about this, you can listen to Springhill Baptist Church’s sermon for May 21, 2017 in the Outrageous series.)
Roman Soldiers and the Extra Mile
In Jesus’s day, a Roman soldier could legally come up to someone walking along the road, dump their gear, and ask that person to carry their gear for a mile (which was a little shorter than a mile as we measure them today-about 1,611 yards or 1,473 meters verses 1760 yards/1609 meters today). This gear could weigh 100 lbs/45.4 kg. The idea for Jesus’s hearers then, is that, when you are asked to carry out this difficult legal obligation, do it with God’s heart of ridiculous grace. Don’t just go one mile, go two.
Not only was it physically difficult, but it would have been an emotionally/culturally difficult task, since Romans were occupying their area. It might be an acceptable thing to do for a fellow Israelite. But for a Greek? Not just a Greek, but the very symbol of oppression- a Roman soldier? The natural bent would be toward an inward state of rebellion and hatred, even though outwardly they would comply. Jesus is asking them to have an inward delight in God’s incredible mercy that out pours to everyone around- especially enemies, reflecting God’s mercy.
Extra Mile Today
I cry at stories of parents going the extra mile for their kids, husbands laying down their lives for their wives, friends taking a bullet for a friend. These are often what we think of for “going the extra mile” today. But the context of this book is in retaliation- and going above and beyond for those that wrong you or are even your enemies.
Think about the type of person you are bent negatively toward. Is it the oppressive father next door that reminds you of your own, the lackadaisical boss running the company into the ground, the indecisive person making every decision take twice as long, the lazy worker that doubles your work but not your pay, the community gossip that’s told one too many about you, the corner-cubicle creep that weirds you out, the strung out guy at the grocery store that backhanded his wife in the aisle, the sleazy online stalker preying on your kid, the alcoholic that ran down your family, the doctor whose malpractice took someone you love? Maybe for you it is an entire group of people from a certain culture, educational level, or area of town?
What would the extra mile look like for you toward that person (or group of people)? And what might it do for the Kingdom of God for you, with sheer delight in the immeasurable mercy of God to reflect that same ridiculous kindness to that person?
Maybe this is something you’ve already done- or you have seen done.
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