First century Israel was an object lesson in cultural and racial diversity. Opinions about the concept and treatment of others depended on who you asked. To the Jewish citizens others were everyone beyond the boundaries of their law, the Gentiles. The Roman oppressors comprised the others category for most residents, soldiers and officials they were expected to treat with obedient respect. Many Greeks had been absorbed into the Roman Empire and lived in the major cities and villages of Israel, their language and culture being predominant except in closed religious communities. There were many sojourners, that is, travelers passing through, and resident aliens making Israel their new home. Slaves, servants, various household functionaries, impoverished and indebted people, and age cohorts represented smaller people groups who would have understood the idea of others in some distinct way. They all had a predisposition about how others were to fit in their personal priority systems.
So, when Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29) the attending multitude must have included listeners from most of the mentioned groups. Matthew is clear that the crowds were from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan (Matthew 5:25). Every demographic was no doubt represented. More to the point, much of what Jesus taught in this Sermon was about human interaction with the others in our lives. Early on he had taught that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5: 17-20). In this teaching, knowing and believing the law was one thing. Doing the will of the Father was the real objective. Treatment of others was a recurring theme in the Sermon. The paragraph titling follows that track---salt and light, anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, loving enemies, giving to the needy, forgiving, and judging were his lesson plan.
Many of these paragraphs were introduced by the phrase "You have heard that it was said of old..." (Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43). Jesus was reminding the diverse crowd that they all had ideals and practices about treating others. We are prone to attribute those sentence openings to Jewish legal practices regarding human interaction. In my mind the "...you have heard that it was said..." formula applied to them all. He was reminding them of sinful human nature and ways. His lessons would contrast their human inclinations and their traditional responses to potential conflict. This entire sermon challenges me at many points because my human nature often overrides the faith lessons about human relationships. But, one paragraph convicts me most---
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. ’But I say to
you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to
him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your
cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to
the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Matthew 5: 38-42, ESV
Typically we're going to settle the score when provoked. It is a somewhat twisted view of justice, that is, giving an offender what we think they deserve, often of similar severity to their offense against us. Call it retribution, retaliation, revenge, pay back, or tit-for-tat , it's about evening the score. We'd prefer the upper hand, higher ground, stacked deck, or any position of advantage when lured into relational conflict. When out-maneuvered, however, reprisal is the deal. Give me my due.
Jesus turned our traditional human responses to personal injury upside-down. Pause here for a moment. He wasn't advising his listeners to disobey the Roman law, the rulings of their oppressive Roman government, or even the strictures of culture. His comments were directed to their inter-personal relationships with the others of their life situation. He taught that the "eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth" system didn't express the counsel of God in those relationships. If slapped, turn the other cheek. If your tunic is taken, give also your cloak. Don't carry the Roman soldiers back-pack one mile, take it two. Give to those who would beg or borrow. It was radical teaching for self-absorbed humans always near the threshold of conflict.
Of that teaching the most memorable to most of us in the sentence about going the second mile. Today it is a metaphor about doing more than is expected or required in our inter-personal relationships---second mile friends, second miles husbands and wives, second mile parents, workers, church members, teachers, ministers, pastors, and everything else. It is a differentiation point with the world system, being salt and light in that world so that "...that they (others) may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5: 16, ESV).
What a world it would be if every single one of us lived a second mile life. It would mean that keeping score would no longer be a relational obsession, that going the distance would be our norm, that life could be valued at a more generous and gracious level. The late author, business man, and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, "There is no traffic jam on the second mile". Ouch! There's plenty of room in the second mile lane. Dave Anderson, author of "How to Run Your Business by the BOOK" wrote, "Going the first mile fulfills an obligation. By going the second mile you earn the right to witness and influence". (Both quotes per the Christian Faith at Work blog by Chris Patton, November 21, 2011 https://www.christianfaithatwork.com/there-is-no-traffic-jam-on-the-second-mile/ ). Which is the central thought of being salt and light. It is about credible influence and relational integrity.
And, couldn't our world us a little of them?
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