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These words of Jesus would have been profoundly disturbing to his first-century audience. The “second mile” that Jesus was referring to was not just a nice platitude that he made up on the spot. Rather, it would have struck a very real and painful nerve.
Soldiers of the Roman Army, who in certain aspects we might consider the “Nazis” of their day, had the legal right to force any subject of an occupied territory to carry their heavy packs and gear for them. However, the legal limit was 1,000 paces — that is, one Roman mile (approximately half a mile today).
Object - Pack - Mule - Limit - Object
Thus, the “subject” was actually turned into an object to be used as a pack mule. But by offering to exceed the limit, the silenced and oppressed human object would be regaining status as a subject. By making this free choice, he would not only be demonstrating the extravagant generosity of God; he would also be placing the soldier into an embarrassing situation, because to allow the extra mile would actually be breaking the law.
It’s unfortunate that we’ve adopted this phrase into our culture and completely misappropriated it. We say “he went the extra mile” to indicate someone worked extra hard on a project or stayed late at work or put up more Christmas decorations than anyone else on the street.
Weight - Passage - Verse - Smack - Dab
It’s also unfortunate that the historical and cultural weight of this passage is missed. This verse comes right smack dab in the middle of the most explicitly nonviolent teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5. Here we have the classics: love your enemy, give to those who ask of you, and turn the...
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