One area in which I most feel this struggle of two forces within me is when I see the injustices of the world. Social and political logic says that; when a person has been oppressed by a force that deprives that person of their freedom, they should respond with force. Fight back against the oppressor, that is speaking truth to power. It is the right of every oppressed to respond with violence against the oppressor; violence of action and, most of all, violence of the word. For while we were told that words can never hurt us; everyone knows that words, the power of speech can kill more savagely than a bullet.
Yet, Jesus had a different take on responding to injustice. There was a Roman law at the time of Christ called lex angeria which gave Roman soldiers the right to force civilians to carry their load for one milion, the 1,520 paces of a Roman mile. After which, the soldier was obligated to take back his pack and release the person. In the middle of talking about an eye for an eye and love for one’s enemies, Jesus said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” (NIV version of Matthew 5:41)
Much has been interpreted about what Jesus meant. Was he saying that it was a way of challenging Roman authority by going beyond the law? Did he mean to express a love for one’s enemies through an act of kindness? Could he have been saying that the best way to shame those oppressing a person was to embarrass them by doing more than what was expected? It might have been all three and more, but I think that, regardless of the interpretation, one principle has been lost by the Church, Christians in general and, by extension, the world. Jesus was speaking to the oppressed not the oppressors.
It is remarkably significant because Jesus was placing the burden of how to respond to an injustice on the one being unjustly burdened by authority; he was talking to the victim. Jesus’ message to the victim was that it was their responsibility for what happened after an unfair situation was thrust upon them. Jesus told the oppressed that where events went next was on their shoulders. The burden was not on the one committing the wrong but the one wronged. A victim could respond with hatred and envy, contempt and even violence but that was not the way of God. The way of God in responding to wicked behavior was with an act of love. Then Jesus put his walk where his words were and marched off to the cross on Calvary. Paul said it so clearly; while we were yet sinners, Jesus Christ died for us, our sins. We were the ones who offended God; he gave us a perfect world and, given enough time and opportunity, we messed it up so completely. Nevertheless, Jesus went the second mile for a bunch of undeserving wicked people and died for their offenses against God.
So here am I, the sinner seething in my heart against the injustices of the world and wishing calamity upon those wicked and evil people and institutions that plague me, those I love and the weak and innocent of the world. I want to react with a righteous indignation toward them but the words of Christ condemn me and I fail again, deep within my soul, to truly be God’s man. Instead of taking up the burden of the oppressor and walking the second mile, I desire vengeance. Oh, to be sure, a just vengeance, that is the lie I use to rationalize my failure to live as Christ lived. I am only thinking the thoughts others are also thinking and some are taking action. Yes, yes, associating with the crowd absolves me from my guilt…except in the eyes of God.
Thankfully, Jesus Christ came into this world for such a soul as mine and went the second mile.