Thursday, January 23, 2014

That Extra Mile

"There are so many things that we miss in the Bible, such as your interpretation of turn the other cheek, or like going the extra mile."

This was said by a dear friend of mine who grew up Christian. We talk about religion at least once a week, and this week he offhandedly mentioned how a lot of people misquote the phrase "go the extra mile".

Well, he had one on me there. I didn't know it came from the Bible. Or perhaps I did, somewhere deep down in the murky pit of my memory, but it sounded like new information to me. I must have mumbled something affirmative, and then, when I hung up the phone, made a quick search for that phrase.

And it surprised me. I mean, it's not like I think of myself as a Bible scholar or anything, but I'm not ignorant of it either.

So, where does "Go the extra mile" come from? Matthew 5:41. And that was what surprised me.

Why? Simple, really. This was actually a passage I thought I was familiar with. You may recall an article I wrote a while back about "turn the other cheek", and how it is really a much deeper phrase then we often think. (You can click here for that article.)

If you don't want to read the whole article, the relevant point in it is that "turn the other cheek" is not actually there in the Bible. Matthew 5:39, which is in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, reads "but I say unto you, resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." And if you actually act it out, pretending to strike someone on the right cheek, then you notice that you have to use your right hand in a backhanded slap. It isn't an act of anger, but an act of insult. You can read the rest for yourself, but suffice it to say that it has a far deeper implication than the usual "If someone slugs you, let him slug you again."

The following verse amplifies this: And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.

Here we are talking about someone suing you in a court of law literally for the shirt off your back. This was legal at the time, and a fairly good way to get repayment for a debt since the shirt would have been handmade, and probably the most valuable possession someone had. The cloak, however, was more important, since it likely doubled as a blanket in the cold night. And it was not legal to sue for the cloak, it being protected by a law in Exodus 22:26 - 27 (see, I do know a bit about the Bible).

But here Jesus is saying that you should give them your cloak, too. Unasked. The net result of this would likely have you standing naked before your peers, as well as freezing your now-exposed buttocks off at night, thus elevating the situation to being at the point of discomfort for the one suing.

I go into this a bit in that article, so I won't do it here.

What I never noticed, though, was the very next verse, Matthew 5:41. "And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two."

When just looking at that phrase on its own, I guess I would think of it as the meaning I learned growing up: Do more than what is expected of you.

Now, however, seeing it in this context, I wonder. Could there be more to it than I suspected?

The simple answer is, "Of course."

You see, I googled it to try and get a bit of conetext, and what I didn't know was that it was fairly common for the Roman legions to "compel" people to do certain tasks. This was evidently a big issue for the Jewish rebels of the time, as I'm sure it would be for me today. It was, in fact, one of their main complaints about the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, and something they desperately wanted to get overturned. And just as they expected the Messiah to come as a warrior and physically boot the Romans out, they also expected that He would demand the cessation of this law.

And what does Jesus do? Practically the exact opposite. (This is one of the many reason why the whole "What would Jesus do" thing drives me up a wall. He's a Messenger of God, for His sake. There's no way we would know what He would do.) He tells us not only to do what is requested of us, no matter unjust it may seem, but to go beyond what is asked. It is, in a sense, radiant acquiescence.

Now, the reason we were talking about this is because we were reading a bit of the Kitab-i-Iqan, and ran across the story of Muhammad changing the Qiblih, the point towards which you face when praying. Like all before Him, He would face Jerusalem. But one day, some of the Jewish leaders were backbiting or gossiping about Him, and He began to resent it. Knowing that it doesn't really matter which way you turn your body, He wanted to change the point of adoration, but didn't. Later, when He was getting ready to pray, so the story goes, the Voice of Gabriel said to Him, "We behold Thee from above, turning Thy face to heaven; but We will have Thee turn to a Qiblih which shall please Thee." But even then, He still turned to Jerusalem. It was only later, after the backbiting continued, when the angel said to Him, "Turn Thou Thy face towards the sacred Mosque", that He faced Mecca. And then He did it in the middle of the prayer, as soon as He was told to do it.

What struck us was that He had the permission to choose His own Qiblih, but would not make the choice on His own. He would never do anything without God's express permission. So even though He wanted to face somewhere else, He waited until Gabriel told Him to turn to Mecca. And then His obedience was instant.

So, what does this have to do with that phrase from Jesus? Well, maybe not all that much. But we saw the connection because of the concept of obedience, to either the Messenger or to God, and the fact that both were tests to those who followed.

The question, though, is how can we go that extra mile?

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