If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. [Matthew 5:41 (NLT)]
To feel sorry for the needy is not a mark of a Christian—to help them is. [Frank A. Clark]
In His “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus gave four illustrations from everyday life about the Christian heart and non-retaliation in the areas of personal attack, legal disputes, forced labor, and financial requests. Although His examples were hyperbolic, His point was abundantly clear—rather than get even, we are to have a generous and compassionate heart toward others.
While personal attack, legal disputes, and people asking for money remain common occurrences today, most of us haven’t encountered an issue of forced labor (although my children might have disputed that back when I made them do chores around the house.) In the 1st century, however, a Roman soldier could commandeer a Jew to carry his armor or other burden for a Roman “mile” consisting of one thousand paces (about 4,854 feet—just a little less than our modern mile). This sort of impressment is what happened to Simon of Cyrene when he was forced to carry Jesus’ cross.
Since we’re not likely to be forcibly impressed into duty, what does Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 5:41 mean to us today? The idiom “go the extra mile” is rooted in His words and has come to mean making an extra effort or going above and beyond what is necessary or expected. What’s missing in the idiom is the completely voluntary, almost sacrificial nature, of Jesus’s directive. Although a Jew could not refuse to carry a Roman’s load those first thousand steps, he could not legally be made to take one step more. Yet, Jesus instructed him to freely offer that second mile without being asked.
I found the perfect example of Jesus’ directive in two letters recently written to our local newspaper. The first was written by a woman well into her eighties who’d gone to the community center to vote. Turnout for early voting has been enormous and more than 75% of the eligible voters in our county had cast their votes by last Friday. All of that early voting (along with social distancing and sanitizing between voters) meant for some very long lines at the polling places. Having arrived fifteen minutes before the polls opened, this woman hadn’t anticipated a long line and, at first glance, it didn’t look too bad. After parking, she walked toward the line’s end but was stopped by a man near the front of the line. Seeing her cane, he inquired if she was in pain and able to make the walk and endure the wait. Assuring him she was fine, she continued toward what she believed was the end of the line only to see that it extended further than she’d originally thought. Realizing she couldn’t stand that long, the woman turned around and started back toward her car. The same gentleman stepped out of the line, approached, and asked if she was leaving because of the line. Acknowledging it was too long a wait, she said she’d try again the next day but the man insisted she take his place. After walking her to his spot near the front of the line, he went “the extra mile” and took his place at the end of it. The second letter was from another elderly woman who uses a walker. She told how a young man walked across the parking lot just to help her fold and stow her walker in the car after she’d voted. I don’t know whether these men were followers of Christ, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were. They certainly understood the real meaning of going the extra mile.
Jesus summed up all of his exhortations about a Christian’s heart with what we know as “The Golden Rule.” Dr. Frank Crane, an early 20th century Presbyterian minister, had this to say about that golden rule: “The golden rule is of no use whatsoever unless you realize that it is your move.” Like those men at the polling places, let us remember—it’s always our move to take that extra mile!
He who sees a need and waits to be asked for help is as unkind as if he had refused it. [Dante Alighieri]
Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. [Matthew 7:12 (NLT)]
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