The second mile
The phase “going the second mile” has found its way into our modern jargon. It has its roots in first-century Palestine. The Romans had conquered much of the known world. One of the marvels of their conquest was a vast system of super highways which they had built to and from their conquered territories. There were over 50,000 miles of these Roman roads throughout the empire. At each mile was a stone marker. The New Oxford English Dictionary calls them “guide stones.” These guide stones pointed direction, determined distance, warned of dangers and each one of them had the miles to Rome etched upon them. Hence the phrase, “all roads lead to Rome.”
By Roman law a Roman citizen could compel a subject from one of the conquered lands to carry his backpack, or load, for him for one mile, but one mile only. As Jesus was preaching His Sermon on the Mount, I have often wondered if He inserted the reference about the second mile when He saw an object lesson in the distance unfolding. He said, If anyone compels you to go with him one mile go with him two. Can you imagine the bombshell this must have been as it was dropped on these followers who were being oppressed by Roman occupation? Let’s note these two guide stones.
I. GuideStone #1 – the mandated mile – motivated by law
I have heard many sermons on the second mile but not many on the first mile. The first mile is always the hardest. Ask the distance runner for example. But if it were not for the first mile, there would be no possibility of the second mile.
The first mile is that which is required of us. It is the mile that is mandated for us. We live in a world where many do not even make it to the first mile marker. That is, they do not even do what is required of them at the office, at home, at church or wherever. The first mile is vitally important. It is what makes us function. It is that which is required of us.
II. GuideStone #2 – the miracle mile – motivated by love
Jesus calls upon us in this verse to do what is required of us and then some, to go above and beyond the call of duty and to do it cheerfully. This mile is motivated by love for Christ and is what should distinguish the believer from others. What is it that separates some from others in the world of athletics? The second mile, doing what is required and then some. What separates some from others in the arts or in education or wherever? It is this principal of the second mile.
The Lord Jesus walked this second mile. Oh, He went the first mile. He did what was required of Him. He left heaven, clothed Himself in human flesh, walked among us and yet was not contaminated by our sin. He was obedient to the Father. But He then went the second mile, all the way to the cross to be our sin bearer. He could have called legions of angels to set Him free, but He went the second mile and died for you and me.