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We think “going the extra mile” means giving 5-star service when much less would do. It’s when you go “above and beyond” the call of duty to offer something special.
But that’s not really what it meant originally. Here’s how Jesus puts it in the sermon on the mount:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” (Matthew 5:38-41)
Jesus is giving us three parallel responses to being wronged. We are to “turn the other cheek” to violent aggressors; to give our cloak to malicious suitors and to “go the extra mile” with whoever is “compelling” us.
It’s not hard to imagine such “compulsion” in first century Judea – Roman soldiers perhaps asking Jews to carry their heavy packs for the next mile. And when they told you to “go a mile” they weren’t asking, they were “compelling”!
So what should the Christ-follower do? They should say “A mile? Tell you what, you look like you’re tired, why don’t I carry it two miles? It looks like you could do with a break.”
“Going the extra mile” is not about putting in extra hours to impress the boss. Unless, that is, it was a bullying boss who was “compelling” you to work beyond what was reasonable.
Imagine if we responded to the bullying boss with some “tit for tat”. Our boss compels us to work under unreasonable conditions. We grudgingly submit to their regime, but get back at them in other ways. What will be the response? Surely a perpetuation of the cycle – evil for evil for more evil for more evil, and so on.
Or imagine if we responded by shrinking back – passively taking on burden after burden. We never say anything because we don’t want a confrontation and it grinds us down into the dirt.
Some people imagine that this is what Jesus is suggesting here. Instead, Jesus wants there to be a confrontation. But a very different confrontation – it’s the shock of being presented with a willing sacrifice. This is the third way to respond. And it would never naturally occur to us. Jesus says, Shock the boss by working over over-time. That’s very different.
It’s not answering evil with evil. It’s not accepting evil as the norm. It’s confronting evil with good. It’s standing firm in unconditional blessing. Only this breaks the cycle of evil. Because it says to the bully:
It hasn’t worked has it? You want me to diminish myself – either by descending to your level, or bowing under your power-plays. But here I am, rising above it with an unnatural buoyancy. You have not won. I have arrested the cycle of aggression. I’m outmanoeuvring you. I have entirely changed the terms on which we are relating. And my grace will convict you more than justice ever could.
Over the past few days we’ve been seeing how Jesus is not only and not mainly a law-giver. First and foremost Jesus is the Law-Accomplisher. So how does Jesus go the extra mile?
Well, unjustly, the Roman soldiers compelled Him to carry a load that didn’t belong to Him. And yet He did not merely take on Himself that burden. He took the sins of the world on His shoulders.
For those with eyes to see it, we are confronted. But the confrontation is not “payback” for our evil. We’re confronted when we see His willing sacrifice. We were the aggressors shouting out “Crucify Him”. And He “repays” us by opening wide His arms. It’s not His justice but His grace that shocks us, and we are won.
“Going the extra mile” is not about hard work. And it’s not about bowing to injustices. It’s the counter-conditional grace that shocks and wins the world.
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Exodus 21:12-36; Matthew 5:38-48
When we were moving through Exodus we came across the Old Testament law: “an eye for an eye.” It limited the kind of retribution the injured party could pursue. The law says you may exact only as much as it cost you. There is to be no escalation of violence according to the law of Moses.
But here in Matthew, Jesus ‘fills full’ the law of reciprocity. He doesn’t just seek to limit the payback we seek. He tells us to pay back in a completely different way. To answer evil with good:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)
Here’s what Jesus is saying:
When you are struck…
- don’t strike back, take the blow
- don’t protect yourself, expose yourself
- don’t lead with justice, lead with mercy
- don’t retreat into safety, advance into danger
- don’t retaliate with strength, retaliate with weakness
- don’t shrink into self-pity, move out into self-giving
- don’t insist on your rights, open yourself to wrong
- don’t cower in defeat, hold fast in meekness
- don’t stand on your dignity, stand on your shame
- don’t harden into bitterness, soften into tenderness
- be defiantly peaceable
- be immovably vulnerable
- be steadfastly gracious
- be victoriously wounded
- be like Jesus.
Who, when we lashed out at Him…
- did not come in violence, nor remain in indifference
- did not strike back, nor shrink back
- did not retaliate, nor harden
He absorbed the blow
And He turned again to us.
He upheld His offer.
Arms outstretched, even to His killers.
There is strength in this weakness.
Strength to redeem the world.
It begins with surrender.
Laying down your arms.
Receiving His peace.
It continues with service.
Following His way.
Absorbing your own blows.
Today. Every day. Turning your cheek.
To this you are called.
To be lower than a door-mat. Far lower.
A door-mat is passive
But you throw yourself under the feet of your enemies.
To be lower than a slave. Far lower.
A slave walks his allotted mile grumbling in his heart.
You walk two miles with a glint in your eyes.
For you know the power of this weakness.
It reconciles the world.