Jesus Said What?
This week we have a guest post by John Bivona, one of the elders at the Dyer campus. This post was inspired in part by the “Did Jesus Say?” series, looking at a challenging saying of Jesus to understand it more in hopes of us living as his disicples in this world. Pastor Brian
Keeping with the theme, “Did Jesus Say?” I’m stuck on something Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5-7), arguably the greatest, most revolutionary, counter-cultural teaching ever. In Matthew 5:41, Jesus tells the predominantly Jewish crowd, along with his disciples, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”
“Go the extra mile.” It’s in American lexicon - you know, give a little more than expected. Tip 20% instead of 15%; read the Bible 3 days a week instead of 2; work 30 minutes overtime, without billing; spend one morning a month working at a homeless shelter. I’m almost patting myself on the back right now as I write this.
My interpretation of this verse was always viewed through my first world, Americana culture lenses and definitely NOT based on Jesus’s actual intent - and certainly NOT the context of the Roman-dominated ancient culture the Jews lived in. (I’ve learned through the years that context is NOT based on my interpretation as the reader, but the writer’s intent.) After getting a more accurate context of what Jesus was talking about, I have to be honest, I’m pretty insulted and offended. Did Jesus know how Rome treated people back then, including his fellow Jews? Did he know how unjust and inequitable society was slanted against them? Wasn’t he supposed to deliver them from oppression and bring justice?
Now, before I unpack the intent and context of this outrageously offensive statement, let me attempt to give you a modern-day example and see if you are not offended as well. Imagine living in a land that is ruled by an oppressive and tyrannical government. A society where all men are NOT created equal and your rights of Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness are endowed by Caesar. A society where you could be put to death in an unfair manner without the hint of justice. Imagine a public official whose job is to “keep the peace”, politely asks you… scratch that, (let me get this example more accurate), imagine if this official forced you to stop what you were doing and carry his stuff for a mile, and on top of that, the law allowed it. Are you tracking with me? Talk about violating your civil rights!
Now imagine that your beloved leader; the very person you believe is going to deliver you from this cruel public official and oppressive state, tells you to go two miles instead of one in this instance! Keep in mind, your leader is teaching you this, knowing that similar public officials, with government approval, has a history of murdering people, without motive or justice!
Offensive? Insulting? Preposterous! Ridiculous! Outlandish!
Let’s go back to the context of Jesus’s saying, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” During the time period of Jesus’s ministry Jews were an oppressed and dominated people, they lived under the tyrannical rule of the Roman Empire. Thousands of men, women and children were murdered, raped, whipped, and thrown to wild animals at the hands of the Romans. Soldiers could use just about any means necessary to keep the peace of Rome, including prison and crucifixion. Additionally, these Roman soldiers could intrude on a Jew, at any time of day, and force them to carry their load one mile. The Jews detested the Romans, not only because of their cruel treatment, but also, because they were occupying their God given land and carrying a Roman soldier’s load only added to that disdain.
And what was Jesus’ response to this treatment? “Go two miles!”
Can you imagine what the crowd and disciples were thinking? I imagine some, if not most, were outraged and offended that Jesus was promoting acts of love in the face of an unjust brutal world. Why did Jesus encourage kindness in return for brutality? Why sacrifice in return for oppression? Why walk a second mile, when the law required one?
Jesus’s call for a second mile was a higher call, one that will move us from revenge to love. An act that will help us bow to our will, so that God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven, to be co-laborers in the redeeming work Jesus did on the cross.
It is interesting that in Luke’s account of Jesus’s crucifixion, Luke mentions that Roman soldiers, “seized (forced) Simeon of Cyrene on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him to carry behind Jesus.” Simeon is an example of someone who was forced to carry a load that was not his own and in Gods’ amazing sovereignty, He orchestrated this “forced infringement” to His gracious plan to redeem the world!
And although Jesus lived in this world, he was not of this world. His teachings were not that of a rebellion, a great philosopher, or even a revered earthly king. His call to allegiance was not to a flag or to a political party, it wasn’t to a social cause or any earthly kingdom.
His kingdom is bigger, better, eternal, it surpasses every earthly kingdom that was and is to come. His call for citizenship turned the world upside down. His topsy-turvy teachings included: Love your enemy; turn the other cheek; consider others better than yourself; if you want to save your life, you must lose your life; if you want to be great, become a servant; if you want to be first, be last; bless those who curse you, rejoice when you are persecuted. All counter-culture statements by a Savior whose plan is to use His Body to reach the lost.
So if you call yourself a disciple of Jesus; He has called you to recklessly love (aka go the extra mile) the rich and the poor; the oppressed and the oppressor, the peasants and the kings, the racist and antiracist, the republican and the democrat, the atheist and the religious, the black and the white, the gay and the straight, the privileged and the disadvantaged.
Jesus’ ultimate purpose was to sacrifice Himself to restore our relationship with Him; our greatest purpose is to sacrifice ourselves to introduce the world to Jesus!
“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” Powerful!
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