Roman law gave a Roman soldier the right to conscript civilians to carry their burdens for one mile (and only for one mile), the equivalent of a Roman mile, slightly shorter than the modern mile. The purpose of this law was to relieve the soldier but it was extremely inconvenient to the citizen pressed into service. To add “insult to injury” those carrying the soldiers equipment or weapons were the very ones the Romans were oppressing! Not surprisingly therefore, the Jews had a particular hatred for this law and soldiers who pressed them into carrying their packs! In fairness, it should be noted that this law could be invoked by any Roman soldier of any citizen anywhere in the Roman Empire, regardless of who the citizen was or what their circumstances were. Undoubtedly, most of Jesus’ audience had been forced “to go one mile” and now He is saying go two!

What is Jesus’ message?

He is choosing something that is particularly despicable and stating that citizens of the Kingdom of heaven should go the second mile willingly and with a right attitude of heart, actions and attitudes that can only come about supernaturally from a new heart controlled by God’s Spirit.

Dwight Pentecost explains it this way…

Our Lord said that, if someone conscripted you to carry his burden the required mile and you came to the end of the mile and the soldier released you, you should gladly carry it further. The conscripted one had his rights. They were protected by law, but he had the right to give up his rights to manifest the righteousness of Christ.

Dear Kingdom Citizen, how do you respond when someone “robs” you of your cherished freedom to do what you want to do and ask you to carry their burden (“even the first mile!”)? Do you gratefully surrender your rights and “go the extra mile” or do you yield only to the “first mile” and even that only begrudgingly?

Scripture speaks of a man named Cyrene whom the Roman soldiers pressed into duty, Luke recording that… when they (the Roman soldiers) led Him (Jesus) away, they laid hold of one Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus. (Luke 23:36)

Kent Hughes explains Jesus’ charge this way…

What Jesus was enjoining here was willing cheerfulness for any of his followers who would come under this form of persecution. There are two ways to do any task. You can mow the lawn with a hangdog expression, like you are mowing the Mojave desert. Or you can mow it and say, “There are birds in the sky, there are clouds above, it is not raining – this is a great day!” When you wash dishes, you can water them with your tears or you can sing hymns. Jesus calls for a revolutionary response in a difficult situation – cheerfulness. The kind that would cause a hardened soldier to say, “What’s with him? This person has something I do not understand.” Ridiculous? Impractical? Pollyannaish? I do not think so! This is the way Rome was won! Revolutionarily righteous people possessing revolutionary joy even when treated unfairly call everyone’s hearts upward.

Freeman in Manners and Customs of the Bible adds these comments on going the extra mile…

The reference here is to an ancient Persian custom. The Persians introduced the use of regular couriers to carry letters or news. The king’s courier had absolute command of all help that was necessary in the performance of his task. He could press horses into service, and compel the owners to accompany him if he desired. To refuse compliance with his demands was an unpardonable offense against the king. There was also a practice in Roman-occupied territory that any Roman soldier could require a citizen to carry his equipment, cloak, or other burdens for one mile. This may have been the practice that the Lord was specifically referring to when He instructs His followers to unselfishly “go the extra mile” as testimony to the generosity of the Christian spirit. The expression has come to mean to help someone beyond what is required or expected of you.

F B Meyer has the following devotional thoughts entitled “The Christian Extra”…

OUR LORD refers here to the usage of the East in the transmission of royal messages, which were carried forward by relays of messengers, much in the fashion of the fiery cross in the Highlands, as described in “The Lady of the Lake.” The messengers were “press-men”; each town or village was compelled to forward the message to the next, and the first man happened upon was bound to forward the courier with his horses or mules.

In some such way emergencies are continually happening to us all. We arise in the morning not expecting any special demand for help, or any other circumstance to interfere with the regular routine of the day’s work, and then suddenly and unexpectedly a demand bursts upon us, and we are obliged to go in a direction which we never contemplated. We are compelled to go one mile! Then the question arises. Now you have done your duty, performed what you were bound to perform, given what any other person would have given, what are you going to do about the next mile? You had no option about the first; about the second you have an opportunity of choice. Your action in the Matter which is optional determines whether or not you have entered into the spirit and ministry of Christ.

Let us not be stingy and niggardly in our dealings with men. There are certain things that must be done, but let us go beyond the must, and do our duty with a smile, and with generous kindness. It is not enough to pay our servants or employees, let us be thankful for their service; it is not enough to pay our debts, let us give the word also of appreciation; it is not enough to simply do the work for which our employer remunerates us, let us do it with alacrity and eagerness, willing to finish a piece of necessary service even at cost to ourselves.

As the followers of Christ, we are to be stars bearing our light on the vault of night; flowers shedding fragrance on the world; fountains rising in the arid wastes; always giving love and helpful ministry to this thankless and needy world, and as we break and distribute our barley loaves and fishes, our hands will become filled again, and with the measure we mete, it shall be measured to us again (Luk6:38).

PRAYER – O God, may we be more gracious to those around us. May we fill up the measure of our possibilities, and so be perfect, as Thou, our Father, art perfect in love. AMEN.
(Our Daily Walk)

[Quoted from]


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