“…and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well” (Matthew 5:40) is an example by Jesus of non-violent active protest against unjust legal and economic systems then and now. You can read more about it in Walter Wink’s Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way.
“….and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile” (Matthew 5:41). I have seen this statement abused by church leaders who tell a person to go back for more abuse. How is that interpretation and advice even possible? How might we help someone suffering abuse to find the best way to resist an evildoer (fight, flight, a third way….)?
I have forced this phrase into a sermon on stewardship—Second Mile Giving: donate more. Not necessarily bad advice—just an inappropriate use of the metaphor.
This is a great example for reading the Bible today through the lens of an ancient world. “If anyone forces you to go one mile…” would be abundantly clear to all hearers that day. ANYONE means any member of the Imperial Roman Army who could FORCE any resident to carry his 60 pound pack one mile. It was a privilege to the soldier; it was an humiliating abuse of power to the peasant.
Roman law had a limitation: a soldier could only force someone to carry his pack one mile. You didn’t want to take up a field worker’s whole day—one mile on your back, one mile back, and back to work. There were severe consequences for forcing a carrier past a mile marker on a Roman road.
To “go also the second mile” upsets the system of power in non-violent protest. By being more helpful, you force the soldier to chase you down the road, begging you to stop before he gets in trouble with his superiors. I now imagine those listening then laughing with joy at this image of transformation of power.
What is your experience of powerful humiliation? How have you been taught to interpret these words of Jesus? Where are opportunities for your transformation now?