“Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him (two)” Matthew 5:41.
We’ve all used the term, “Go the second mile.” We can easily forget that the term was originally used by the Lord Jesus who was speaking to a crowd during the time when Rome ruled the world, including Israel.
The phrase referred to a standing rule of the Roman government. When a Roman soldier commanded a Jewish citizen to Carry his pack (“duffel bag”), the person had to obey. The law specifically stated that one mile was the maximum distance required, except in an emergency.
Jewish youth who lived in the country would step off a mile in either direction of their home and drive a peg in the ground to mark the spot. When a soldier, known as a Centurion, came by and commanded a helping hand, it was with deep resentment and reluctance that the farm boy complied. Upon reaching the milepost, the load was set down and the person headed back home grumbling and fuming.
Jesus recommended a unique response to these Roman orders: “When you’re commanded to go a mile, why not go two miles?” Naturally, this didn’t set very well with the listeners of Jesus until they were made to realize the possibilities of responding in Jesus’ way.
They could carry the soldier’s pack feeling humiliated and despising the entire episode, or they could follow Jesus’ admonition. The man could carry the pack, speaking kindly to the soldier. He could ask questions about Rome, ask about the soldier’s family, and when they arrived at the milepost, continue on for the additional mile. What might such a response bring forth?
First, the person is left with a deposit of goodwill and happiness for traveling that extra distance. The affected soldier may have carried away some newfound feelings of gratitude and respect for Israel which he had never felt before.
Second, the second mile calls out the best in others. I remember a Panama Canal transit our Navy ship, the U.S.S. LST 983, made. I pulled almost two days in a row of continuous duty, with no sleep. We finally entered port and I went to sleep, knowing I was scheduled to stand a four-hour security watch on the ship that same evening. But I didn’t wake up until the next day! My good friend, Van Stephenson, had gotten someone to stand in for me. He said, “I just let you sleep, DJ, because I knew you were mighty tired.” (You just don’t forget shipmates like that. We are still great friends to this day.)
Third, the second mile makes life’s burdens lighter. Jesus gave this principle for making happy homes. C. Roy Angel wrote, “if just one person in a home would practice this second mile that Jesus is talking about, he alone, or she alone, could transform a home.” If we did a little more than we’re expected to do, and did a few nicer things than anybody has a right to ask us to do, imagine how much sweeter and tranquil our home life could be.
Fourth, let’s never forget: God went the second mile. Jesus never gave us a commandment that He Himself did not live. The greatest mile ever presented to the world was Jesus Himself. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
We can all look back over our lives and remember many fine friends and loved ones who went the extra mile for us “and then some.”
May the Lord help all of us to be “second-milers!” And may the Lord bless each one of you.
Dr. David Sparks is senior pastor of Flat Rock Pentecostal Holiness Church & National Chaplain, U.S, Landing Ship Tank Association.