“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But now I tell you: do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too. And if someone takes you to court to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles.” (Matt. 5:38-41 GNT)
In the King James Version, the words “shall compel” are used in the above verse and are of Persian origin, which means to be a courier, to press into public service, dispatch a mounted messenger, denotes to compel one to go on a journey, to bear a burden, or to perform any other service.
Jesus spoke the above words in His Sermon on the Mount. We understand what He was saying about not to “take revenge,” but what did He mean to “carry it two miles”?
In Jesus’ day, the Romans continued a practice they learned from the Persians about 600 years earlier. Persian messengers or heralds had the royal authority to compel any person or his horse, boat, or any other thing he owned that the messenger might deem usable in order to deliver the king’s commandments.
This is the custom to which Jesus referred.
This practice was made Roman law. An individual from a conquered country was required to carry a load or pack up to one mile on foot if coerced by a Roman. If a Roman soldier saw a Jewish male, adult or boy, he could command the male to carry his backpack or burden for one mile.
The Jews hated this law and would not carry this burden one inch further than the law required. However, they had two options: carry the burden and walk a mile or receive a beating and spend time in jail for defiance.
Therefore, the Jews marked off a mile from wherever they were so they would know in advance exactly how far one mile was if a soldier came and demanded they carry a load. The burden or pack the soldier compelled a male to carry could be anything, even something heavy, dirty, or smelly.
Can you imagine the indignance of the Jews that day as they sat on the hillside, listening to Jesus preach to them, “Go the second mile.” Can’t you just hear the whispers rising up, gathering momentum like a burgeoning wave? Do more than the Law required? Surely not.
What about us today? Do we go the extra mile? Do we go out of our way to help others, to show our love and care for them? Oh, we do for those we love, don’t we? But do we go that extra mile for those we don’t love?
What did Jesus say? Just a couple of sentences later in Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” (Matt. 5:44 NKJV)
Peter reiterated Jesus’ words, “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it.” (1 Peter 3:9 NLT)
You mean I have to be nice to those who are nasty to me, who stab me in the back, who cheat me, who persecute me? If I want to be obedient to the Lord’s words, I do! Ooo! That hurts, doesn’t it?
The first mile is the compelled, have-to mile, but the second mile is the compassionate, want-to mile.
The Lord may whisper to your heart to show some kindness to someone, to do some deed of sacrificial love for one who has been unkind to you. What will be your response?
May you not only walk the first mile but also walk many, compassionate, want-to miles.