Going the Extra Mile

Most of us are familiar with this expression. It’s usually understood as a kind gesture of doing more than is expected of you. And to describe it as a kind gesture is to assume that it comes from a free will decision of you own heart for the purpose of being kind and generous.

And so today, it is received as a pleasant surprise. The recipient of your extra mile is grateful for your unexpected decision of staying a little longer to help at church or providing extra customer service, or working an extra hour without asking for overtime pay.

In fact, we all have wonderfully sweet stories of people going the extra mile for us and how blessed we felt by it. And we all have good memories of people showing appreciation when we went the extra mile for them.

But this devotion is not about this kind of extra kindness. It’s not about the modern expression of going the extra mile. Actually, it’s about the original meaning of going the extra mile when Jesus taught it in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:41 where it says:

If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

Notice that the original situation does not involve a kind gesture nor a free will decision. Surprisingly, it’s about a scenario that is far more serious and difficult. It’s about someone forcing you to do something. It would be like your boss at work forcing you to do something unreasonable and not in your job description.

And so, this verse is not about doing things about the kindness of your heart. It’s not about chivalry or extra courtesy. But, it’s about a pressurized situation where you are coerced.
The original scenario is of person who comes to you and “forces you” to go one mile. This word “force” in the original language goes back to ancient Persian culture which had an amazing postal system. In fact, the original word “force” literally means a courier, a delivery person. A comparable example is the pony express from old America.

Those postal riders would travel from post to post, and at each stop there would be food and a fresh horse waiting for them. And these riders had a certain level of authority in which they could force someone to do things for them such as getting them food or even pressure someone to carry the message for them.

And so, this coercive act became a general life-expression of pressing you to do something that you did not plan to do nor want to do. This was the same word used of Simon of Cyrene in Matthew 27 who was “forced” to carry the cross by the Roman soldiers when Jesus could not.

And so, Jesus is not speaking of a kind and generous decision but the everyday difficult situation of doing things that we don’t want to do and feeling pressured and obligated to do it.

And the sobering truth is that we face these kinds of pressurized situations all the time. Think about all the situations and places where this happens: school, work, community, family, even the church where leaders press us to do things that we don’t want to do. And in such situations, we feel violated. We feel that our freedom, our values, and our personal worth has been violated.

And in these situations, Jesus teaches us to go an extra mile. Going one mile would be commendable since it is done under pressure. But going two miles is shocking, since no one is expecting it, not even the one who pressures.

This teaching is exceedingly difficult. It rakes against the modern expression of going the extra mile which is based on our freedom and generosity. We are shocked that the original situation involves the taking away of our freedom. And it feels so wrong.

But the biblical principle here and throughout the surrounding context is about a believer’s response. It’s a principle of not returning evil for evil. It’s about being longsuffering when things are unjust. It’s about leaving final justice in God’s hands. And it’s about showing a godly response in difficult situations.

If you are meeting in a group, you can pause to discuss the challenges of going the extra mile as Jesus originally taught. What is the difference between Jesus’ teaching and the modern understanding of going the extra mile? Share a story of how you went the extra mile as Jesus intended. What spiritual lessons did you learn? Are you in a difficult situation right now where you are pressured to go the extra mile? Share and pray for each other.

Jesus says that if we are forced to go one mile, we should go two miles. That’s double the mileage! Let’s confirm that it’s not because Jesus endorses the demand placed on us. Jesus knows how hard it will be. But this is really about showing godliness and righteousness to unbelievers. It’s about letting our actions speaks louder than our words, so that God is glorified.

And when God is highlighted through our actions, we are realizing the greater purpose for our lives.

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