No Traffic Jam in the Second Mile

“No Traffic Jam in the Second Mile.”

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 Matthew 5:38-48


How would you feel if you had been one of those disciples with Jesus?  He had just told you that four of the basics of the Law you had learned all your life were not quite correct interpretations of what God had meant…that the Pharisees and teachers had taught you incorrectly.  What’s next?

Well…He’s about to tell you that two more interpretations of the Law were wrong…and that you should strive for perfection.  Are you going to stick around…or…is it time to leave?  Fortunately for us the disciples stuck around so that Jesus could share with them…what some would consider the defining characteristics of Christians…the characteristics that some who call themselves Christians would like to forget.

Are you going to stick around to hear whether you’ve been taught…and are living as Jesus wants?

First…”You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”  But I tell you do not resist an evil person.”  The original intent of the law was to limit vengeance.  Before the law, if a man of one tribe injured a man of another tribe, then at once all the members of the tribe of the injured man were out to take vengeance on all the members of the tribe of the man who committed the injury.  The vengeance they desired was nothing less than death.  The law limits vengeance, to only the man who committed the injury and to no more than the equivalent of the injury he inflicted and the damage he had done.

But…for the Christian Jesus abolished the old law of limited vengeance and introduced the new spirit of non-resentment and non-retaliation…true forgiveness.  He gave examples.

It will not happen very often, if at all, that anyone will slap us on the face, but time and time again life brings to us insults either great or small.   Jesus is here saying that the true Christian has learned to resent no insult and to seek noretaliation for any slight.

In the private and public life of a Christian…going forward is not about responding to insult…with name-calling and further insult.  Instead…it is about forgiving and truly moving forward.  Check your neighborhood and your newspapers to see whether this is really happening.

There are people who are forever standing on their rights…who clutch their privileges to them and who will not let them be pried loose …who will quickly go to court rather than suffer what they regard as the slightest infringement of them.  The Christian thinks not of his/her rights…but of their duties… not of their privileges but of their responsibilities.

There is a move afoot in South Carolina and other parts of the United States to convince employers to hire individuals who have been convicted of non-violent crimes and served their sentence in jails…instead of turning them down for employment which often leads to a return to crime…as a way to support themselves.   What path is the Christian path for employers and neighbors to take when it comes to the people who have this stumbling block as part of their background?

In an occupied country citizens could be compelled to supply food… to provide lodging … to carry baggage.  Palestine…in Jesus’ time… was an occupied country.  At any moment a Jew might feel the touch of the flat of a Roman spear on his shoulder…and know that he was compelled to serve the Romans.  It might be in the most menial way.  That, in fact, is what happened to Simon of Cyrene…when he was compelled to bear the Cross of Jesus.

What Jesus is saying to the disciples is this.  Suppose your masters come to you and compel you to be a guide or a porter for a mile.  Don’t do a mile with bitter and obvious resentment.  Go two miles with cheerfulness and with a good grace.  Don’t be always thinking of your liberty to do as you like. Be always thinking of your duty and your privilege to be of service to others.  When a task is laid on you…even if the task is unreasonable and hateful… don’t do it as a grim duty to be resented.  Do it as a service to be gladly rendered.

To give to some needy person was not something which a person might choose to do.  It was something the person must do.  To refuse to give to the needy was to refuse God.  The rabbis loved to point out that loving-kindness was one of the very few things on which the Law had no limit at all.   The effect of the giving on the receiver must also be taken into account.  Giving must never be such as to encourage laziness and shiftlessness for such giving can only hurt.  The professionals today call this “toxic charity.”  To give hundreds of blankets to homeless persons is not as helpful as taking the time to work with them to find ways for them to break the situation of being homeless.

“Love your enemies”…Jesus said.  The kind of love Jesus was describing here is what the Greeks called agape (uh GOPP ay).  It means that no matter what that person does to you… no matter how he treats you… no matter if he insults you or injures you or grieves you…you will never allow any bitterness against that person to invade your hearts.  Instead you will regard that person with unconquerable benevolence and goodwill that seeks nothing but his highest good.

Jesus never asked us to love our enemies in the same way as we love our nearest and our dearest…our parents….our children…our spouses.  The word is different.  To do so would neither be possible nor right.  This is a different kind of love.

This kind of love is not only something of the heart.  It is also something of the will.  It is not something we just cannot help…not romantic love.  It is something which we have to will ourselves into doing.  It is in fact a victory over what comes naturally to us. It is the power to love those whom we do not like and who may not like us.

It can happen only when we open our hearts to Jesus Christ.  He then enables us to conquer our natural tendency to anger and to bitterness… and to achieve this goodwill to all people.

It does not mean that we allow persons to do anything they want…to be left unchecked.  If we regard a person with goodwill… it might mean that we must punish him… that we must restrain him… that we must discipline her… that we must protect her from herself.  It also means that we do not punish him to satisfy our desire for revenge…but in order to make him a better person.  All Christian discipline and all Christian punishment must be aimed…not at vengeance…but at cure.

Jesus said this is the basis for personal relationships first and foremost.  He wants us to live a life in which we personally never allow any such thing as bitterness to invade our relationships with those we meet every day.  And…each of us should say first and foremost:  “This means me.”

This commandment is possible only for a Christian.  Only the grace of Jesus Christ can enable a person to have this kind of goodwill in personal relationships with other people. It is only when Christ lives in our hearts that bitterness dies and this love springs to life.

This commandment does not only involve allowing people to do as they like to us.  It also involves that we should do something for them.  We are expected to pray for them.  No one can pray for someone else and continue to hate them.  The surest way of killing bitterness is to pray for the person we are tempted to hate.

Why does Jesus want us to have this kind of love?  Jesus said we must have this kind of love that we might become “the sons of our Father who is in heaven.”  The reason we must have this goodwill is that God has it.  If we have it we become nothing less than sons of God… godlike people.

“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”…Jesus said.  The Greek word for perfect as used here has nothing to do with what we might call perfection.  Instead…a thing is perfect if it fully realizes the purpose for which it was planned, designed and made.  A human is perfect if that person realizes the purpose for which he/she was created and sent into the world.

A human will fit their purpose if they become the image of God.  The primary characteristic of God is this universal benevolence… this unconquerable goodwill…this constant seeking of the highest good of every person…to love the saint and the sinner alike.  No matter what humans do… God seeks nothing but their highest good…even when that person does something that God hates.  God expects the same of us.

True love of God enables the same of us.

At its simplest… the person who cares most for the good of other humans is the most perfect person.  The one thing that makes us God-like is the love which never ceases to care for others…no matter what they do to us.  We enter Christian perfection when we learn to forgive as God forgives…and to love as God loves.

Who will we forgive today?

Who will we love instead of feel bitter toward?

Who will we serve?

For whom will we realize that there is no traffic jam in the extra mile?