The Persians invented the first ‘pony express’i. Messengers who needed help could conscript it from those along the way. The Romans liked the practice and adopted it for the military.
Jesus reflected on that when he said “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two” (Mt. 5:40-41)
Jesus was saying two equally important things. The first is, that life is made up duty and responsibility. But one of the things that sets the Christian life apart, is the attitude with which we fulfill them.
If I do my duty as a duty, it’s not long before I resent it. As soon as I think that I have kept my obligations, I’ll stop right then and there. After all, since ‘work to rule’ is legal, it is surely also good, right and fair.
But Jesus challenged that kind of thinking. He did it against the background of God’s grace. God himself has gone above and beyond. Our creator is also the one who sustains the world. The one who preserves our freedom of choice has added salvation to the list of things from which we may choose. He did not have to do this, but has done so at the greatest possible expense to himself.
God calls us then to be like himself. To transform duty into privilege and to take hold of every opportunity to be like Jesus
Its an attitude that sets us free. When the things that we must do become the things that we want to do, everything looks different. We are free to act and not just react. We are free to choose the lordship of Jesus and to serve him by serving others. Faith and obedience set us free in a way that is quite unexpected.
The second thing that Jesus was teaching is tied up in this business of the second mile. If I said to you “he/she really went the ‘second mile’”, you would understand me to say that they had gone “above and beyond”. We admire that because it is hard to do and we prefer to think of ourselves in just that way. Let’s consider whether or not that is true.
The question is perhaps less about whether or not I have gone the second mile and more about whether I have skipped the first.
- Volunteer to do so many things at ‘church’ that I neglect my family
- Pray for world peace but fail to forgive my brother.
- Give generously to many ‘good’ causes but decline to support the greater progress of the gospel
The second mile just doesn’t work without the first. It is just not what Jesus intended nor what he did. For over 30 years Jesus went the first mile. He came from heaven to earth – because he’d accepted a duty. Born in obscurity and raised a commoner, He spend his life doing good and serving others. He lived a life free from sin in order to set us free from sin.
Jesus walked the first mile first because there was no other way. He could not die for our sins without becoming a man. Nor would an unworthy life have been an acceptable sacrifice. Jesus walked the first mile first, before turning his eyes toward Jerusalem. The second mile took him to the cross and fulfilled a promise that He had made in eternity.
May God help us become ‘second mile’ people, starting today with the first.