The extra mile

Published on 21 Feb 2020

If anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him [1].  

Jesus has invited us to join him on his road.  We, his disciples, follow him as generously as we can.  We ask his help to keep up with him.  We have thrown in our lot with him: you belong to Christ [2].  We listen for his orders.  He does not deceive us about the difficulty of our covering the miles with him.  However he assures us that to walk with him will lead to happiness forever.  There is no trap in the call to discipleship.  Nevertheless we are changed by our proximity to and dealings with the Lord.  When anyone obeys what Christ has said, God’s love comes to perfection in him [3].  The connection with the Lord deepens. The landscape alters.  The demands of the journey evolve. If anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him [4].  

Walking with Christ, we are initiated into his way of living.  He shows us the next step.  He teaches us to forgive generously.  We are to love those who harm us.  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you [5].   Jesus commands a costly forbearance.  If you love those who love you, what right have to claim any credit [6].   He empowers us for this kind of magnanimity.  Is the order to go even one mile along such a road of forgiveness unreasonable?   Does not justice call for a robust response to the wicked man to whom Jesus teaches us to make no resistance [7]?  The one mile directive is mentioned in the same breath as the striking on the right cheek to which the response is to be the proffering of the other cheek as well [8].  The person ordering the one mile also seems quite like the litigant who is in pursuit of the tunic and who is to be given the cloak as well [9].   The Lord calls out of us generosity of spirit. He does so cumulatively.  We are to forgive more and more. The narrow gate [10] becomes narrower and more is asked of us.  To those to whom a great deal has been given, much will be demanded [11].

Jesus teaches us again and again: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you [12].  He shows us how to do this by his own living and dying. In the passion of Christ there is a model of making no resistance to the wicked, of turning the other cheek and of giving all of what is unreasonably demanded and even more.  Our divine teacher warns us to be prepared for persecution.  He is prepares us for this, yet he is not himself our persecutor.  God is our loving educator. He hopes that we will freely choose to become holy. Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy [13].  We are being prepared to accompany Jesus to his cross and resurrection by carrying other crosses.  The order to go the ‘unreasonable’ mile trains us to find the resources to make even bigger sacrifices.  The extra mile in the company of Jesus nevertheless delights us.  His being with us does not magically make all that is demanded of us easy.  However the solidarity of discipleship is a sharing not only of tears but also of happiness.  Without knowing everything in advance, we have bargained for this.

My soul, give thanks to the Lord and never forget all his blessings [14].  Among the blessings is our being able to respond as Jesus teaches us to the difficulties which challenge us.  The unreasonable demand is certainly made of us.  Furthermore the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God [15]. His grace enables us to react to insult and slight with forbearance.   The violence to which a persecuted person might resort is renounced.  The meekness of Christ inspires generous love.  Trouble often generates more trouble. The disciples of the crucified-one, however, imitate his goodness and gentleness.  The extra mile takes us some way up the hill of Calvary.  To walk this distance is to stay close to the Lord who has called us to follow him.  He shows us not only grim endurance but also, once more, joyful solidarity.

The troubles are testing but they are not tests imposed on us by God.  Your Father in heaven, causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike [16].  The creator is not the source of the things that go wrong.  The Christ-like reaction to the wrong-doing of others and the set-backs that come is a cooperation with the schooling of us that is always going on.  Accompanying Jesus on his journey, we receive his teaching and help.  He shows us how to understand what is happening to us.  He initiates us into glimpses of the divine perspective.  How does God respond to the wrong that is done and that happens?  It is he who forgives all your guilt, who heals every one of your ills, who redeems your life from the grave, who crowns you with love and compassion [17].  The just God is also merciful.  To his justice we consign the wickedness which oppresses us.  To his mercy we commend ourselves and those wrongdoers for whom grace prompts us to pray.

As disciples of Christ, we are asked to love our enemies.  We are to respond to hurts with forgiveness and to troubles with hope.  We draw the strength for such goodness from God himself.  He forgives the hurt to him that is in our sins.  Mercifully and lovingly, he has sent his Son to live and die among us saving us and showing us how to love and forgive.  We are further strengthened for the extra mile by the divine presence in our heart.  Within us God has  already placed the love with which he the creator of good responds to evil.  The temple of God is sacred and you are that temple [18].  The Holy Spirit dwells in us and prompts our Christ-like reactions. He asks for one mile and inspires in us a further generosity.  The extra mile is our longer walk in the best of all company.  In these further steps we are strengthened for our task.  The joy is in closeness to the Lord.  There is extra happiness in our shared confidence that whatever happens we will be doing as he to whom we have committed ourselves has directed us and shown us.

Fr Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]      Matthew 5.41

[2]      1 Corinthians 3.23

[3]      1 John 2.5

[4]      Matthew 5.41

[5]      Matthew 5.44

[6]      Matthew 5.46

[7]      Matthew 5.39

[8]      Matthew 5.39

[9]      Matthew 5.40

[10]      Matthew 7.13

[11]      Luke 12.48

[12]     Matthew 5.44

[13]     Leviticus 19.2

[14]     Psalm (103) 102.2

[15]     1 Corinthians 3.19

[16]     Matthew 5.45

[17]     Psalm (103) 102.3-4

[18]     1 Corinthians 3.17