Jesus’ teaching on the ‘sermon on the mount’ has been so foundational to Christianity and indeed to society in general that for the third week in a row we are looking at a phrase, spoken two thousand years ago, which is still being used today. We have already looked at ‘turning the other cheek’ and ‘taking the shirt of your back’ and this week we will look at “Going the extra mile”
I want you to imagine that you are in first century Palestine. You are rushing through the dusty streets in the heat of the sun. You have a very pressing engagement; it could be an important business meeting or a job interview or one of your children is ill and you are rushing to their aid. Nearly home, you turn the corner and just avoid bumping into a Roman soldier. You try and ignore him and brush past, but he grabs your arm. “You!” he says, “It’s your lucky day, you get to carry my back-pack for a mile and be my slave.” You know you can’t run away because his grip on your arm has tightened, so with extreme annoyance you heave his back-pack onto your shoulder and follow him in the opposite direction you were going. How are you feeling? Happy that you can relieve the stress of an occupying soldier or seething inside, bitter, angry, annoyed, infuriated and resentful?
Can you see why Jesus’ words in today’s verse are so radical?
The Occupying Roman army had pinched this practice from the Persians. A soldier could compel any civilian to carry something for them for up to a mile. This is what happened when Simon of Cyrene was made to carry Jesus’ cross in Mark 15:21.
You can imagine the oppressed subject counting every step of that mile and not going a single step further than they had to. Jesus didn’t just say to go a few steps more to show you are not under law. No, Jesus as we have seen is always radically different. He says to do the whole thing again. If you are walking in the opposite direction that’s a whole 4 miles, 2 miles there and 2 miles back to where you started from! And we need to do it with a good heart and a smile on our face.
“ok” you might say “but isn’t that a bit of a redundant phrase now?” We will never be accosted by a Roman soldier in the street and made to carry his back pack, but there are many instances where this directive could be applied.
We get asked to do things all the time we don’t particularly want to do. Do we do it willingly and happily offering to go above and beyond what’s been asked? What about the grumpy boss who wants you to stay 10 minutes late and he’s not going to pay you for it? What about the teacher who gives you extra homework or your wife asks you to do the dishes after a long day in the office? Do you offer to do the drying up as well?
Every action we do in a genuinely cheerful manner and a good heart can bring glory to Jesus. We are in a position to completely change people’s perceptions of Christianity if we follow the spirit of these commands. This is exactly what the apostle Peter was referring to;
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. (1 Peter 2:12-15)
Why not show what you can do this week to surprise somebody?