Maybe no Christian cliché is quoted more frequently than this one: “Go the second mile.”
When I teach this part of Jesus’ sermon, I usually emphasize (and remind myself) that we could spend the rest of our lives trying to work this one out . . . and we’d never get all the way there. For most of us, there’s just a little too much self in us. Second-mile religion requires a self-emptying spirit that doesn’t come naturally at all.
And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you (Matthew 5:41-42).
Sounds easy enough, right? But it never was. A Roman soldier could require a civilian to carry his luggage for a mile when he was passing through town.
Here’s an understatement: Jewish civilians absolutely detested this practice. They hated the Romans, and the ever-present soldier reminded them daily that Rome was their master.
So this wasn’t going the second mile for somebody from church or a good friend in the neighborhood. It wasn’t going a little out of your way for somebody you liked and who liked you.
I have a hard enough time doing that for those folks, don’t you? It’s often difficult to allow ourselves to be inconvenienced for those we love the most.
So think about what Jesus was saying. He was telling the first-century Jew to carry the hated soldier’s packs for the first mile. And then another mile, even though it wasn’t required by law. The very thought must’ve made them sick.
And it’ll make us a little queasy when we realize what it means to us. You shuffle in from a long day of work, and your spouse asks you to take care of a problem with the house. Or your kids need something from you (don’t they always?).
Imagine how it would change the climate around our homes if we really took this second-mile stuff seriously. “Sure, honey, I’d love to do that! When I’m done, what else can I do?” (don’t laugh)
What if each of us woke up and decided that we were going to be second-mile people throughout the day? If kids did their chores without grumbling and tried to do their siblings’ jobs as well? If employees didn’t just do what they had to do to keep their jobs?
And what if we did this for people we don’t like or who don’t like us, which is what the Roman soldier represented? It’s exciting to think about what folks in our communities might say about Christianity, isn’t it?
Really, Jesus is calling us to a different way of life. Gone is the begrudging, grumbling, I’ll-do-the-bare-minimum attitude. It’s replaced by one that’s trying to follow Jesus, who didn’t want to carry the cross to Calvary . . . but did it anyway.
So he’s perfectly qualified to ask us to carry a burden an extra mile as well.