41 “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
Matthew 5:41 (NIV)
In the previous two posts, Jesus commands us to “turn the other cheek” and “give until you are naked.” I have presented a different way to think about these commands from Jesus, by using and understanding the Hebrew Culture that Jesus grew up with. This passage about going two miles when asked to go only one is no different from the previous two posts. I want to present an ancient Roman law that Jesus would have been familiar with that I think He is referring to in this command.
DRINK IT IN:
The ancient Roman law I am referring to is called the Law of Angaria. You can do a search via the internet and find all kinds of information about this ancient rule. The Law of Angaria was enacted as a way to keep the Roman Empire from looking uncivilized. The Roman Empire wanted to be known as a dominating force, yet civilized. So, the Roman Empire adopted a law that the Persians created. This law gave authority to any Roman official…Military or not…to require of any person or vessel, living in Roman occupied territory, to carry anything the Roman official needed carried, but only for one mile. (If we got really technical, 1000 steps) If the official was caught having the person carry something more than a mile, he could be reprimanded, demoted and in some cases potentially put to death. The Law of Angaria is what the Romans used when they forced Jesus to carry his own cross. Its fascinating to know, that the distance between the place where Jesus was put on trial and the actual crucifixion sight (Golgotha or Skull Hill), was right at one mile. There are arguably two location where Golgotha is located, and both locations are right at one mile of distance from the Trial location.
So, Jesus tells his listeners,”If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Is it possible that Jesus is being a bit ornery here? You have to agree with me that it is likely. Again, to repeat what I said in the previous two posts, Jesus does command us to be as sly as a snake and innocent as a dove. He does tell us to conquer evil by doing good.
Imagine an arrogant Roman officer demanding that you carry his pack for one mile. He has the right to do so because it is the law of the land. You, as a Christian, comply and you do exactly as the Roman officer commands you. As you traverse with the Roman officer for a mile, he would expect you to stop and return the pack. Imagine, without saying a word, you continue carrying the pack and you cross the one mile threshold. Not only are you doing an act of service and kindness to this Roman officer, that used the law of the land to take advantage of you, but you now have strategically and legally caused this Roman officer to be at your mercy. Its a double win for the Christian! Of course, as a Christian you are not going to mistreat this travel partner of yours, but you most definitely have the upper hand now. He knows he could be demoted for this situation and you now have the control. I have read about early Christians and have ventured across some stories of Christians walking the second mile with Romans and using the extra time to tell of the story of Jesus as the Son of God and the only way to Heaven.
I assure you, that after this happens once to any Roman, he would not use the Law of Angaria on a Christian again.
Be as a sly as a snake and innocent as a dove.
Conquer evil by doing good.
The early Christians had quite a reputation in the Roman Empire. A good and strong reputation. It fueled a great fire of hate within the belly of the bully. It caused unbelievable persecution upon the Christians. That very persecution, caused the message of Jesus, to spread like a wildfire out of control. Except it was controlled. God had it right where He wanted it.
SWEAT IT OUT:
Is there someone in your life who is trying to dominate you? Figure out a way to strategically and lovingly put them in their place. Do it without sinning. Our world needs more demonstrations of the strength and holiness and wisdom of Christianity. Be very careful with this. Remember that you and I are always one decision away from blowing our credibility. This also means that you and I are always one decision away from hurting the credibility of Jesus.
Romans 12:20 (NIV) says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
I think it is fascinating that the author actually writes the part about heaping burning coals upon their head. That’s ornery. That’s strategic. Its not nice. Yet, according to the Bible, its not wrong!
Somewhere along the way of life, we confused the love of Jesus with simple nice-ness.
So, you know your circumstances. You know most of the people you encounter everyday. Right?
So, as you encounter these people today and tomorrow and the next, what do they think of Jesus because of you and your actions? Are they inspired by your strength, strategy, humility, boldness, wisdom, servanthood, innocent conquering ability?