“Going the second mile” is a common phrase in our language whose roots extend to first-century Palestine. The Romans had conquered much of the known world. One of the many marvels of their conquest was the vast system of highways constructed to connect Rome to their conquered territories. It is believed that Rome built and maintained over 50,000 miles roads. At every mile was a stone marker, knows as guide stones. These stones declared direction and determined distance. Each one etched with the miles to Rome, hence the phrase, “all roads lead to Rome.”
The Romans placed a specific burden upon the residents of the lands they occupied. A Roman soldier could compel ant male to carry his rucksack or burden for a mile with no option for refusal. As you would imagine this practice caused terrible resentment among the Jews of Jesus’ day toward the Roman government. One of the many things I appreciate about the earthly teachings of Jesus was His use of local customs, traditions, and practices to make spiritual applications. This often shocked and His listeners, but it allowed His point to hit home. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5 examines such a teaching and response.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.”
Can you imagine how the Jews felt when Jesus said, “Go the second mile?” No doubt His audience thought of the Roman practice of burden-bearing. I would imagine someone in His audience said, “Seriously?” In their minds I’m sure they wondered why they should go farther than the Law required them to go. Jesus was calling them to second-mile living. Christianity is a second-mile faith and Christians are called second-mile living. Jesus explained what this type of life looked like:
- To love your neighbor is the first mile – to love your enemy is the second mile.
- To bless those who bless you is the first mile – to bless those who curse you is the second mile.
- To do good to those who do good to you is the first mile – to do good to those who hate you is the second mile.
- Praying for those who pray for you is the first mile – praying for those who would use you is the second mile.
The first mile is that which is expected of us. It is simply discharging our Christ-given duty. It is our reasonable service. The second mile is more. It is above and beyond the expectation. It is here the difference between Christianity and other religions begins to show. It is the “extra” that causes others to say, “Wait a minute, they don’t have to do this.” If Christians would practice second-mile living at our jobs, at school, and at home our bosses, teachers, friends, and family members would take notice and ask questions about that may lead to gospel conversations. The first mile is congested, but the second mile is not well-traveled. The first mile is gridlock, but the second mile is almost deserted. How do you want to be known?