“Salt and Light”: Matthew 5 | Perfect? I Don’t Know…

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”

Matthew 5:41

In the time of the New Testament, Roman soldiers and government officials could force citizens of occupied territories to carry their equipment.

When Jesus says, “go with them two miles”, He uses Roman language – a Roman measurement – to make his point to his Jewish listeners.

What’s that all about?

Imagine we were invaded by a people who used the kilometer, instead of the mile. All the officials we hated and wanted to overthrow, could say things like: “Drop what you’re doing, pack up my kid’s things, and deliver them 200 kilometers to the school that he’s going to in the fall.”

That is what Jesus’ listeners would have heard, when he said: “Go the extra mile…”

And Jesus goes even further: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

There are statements in the Old Testament that counsel hatred toward those who do evil:

 I do not sit with men of falsehood,

    Nor do I consort with hypocrites.

 I hate the assembly of evildoers,

(Psalm 26:4-5)

But Christ’s command to love enemies, one commentator writes, “in its absoluteness and concreteness, … is without parallel in paganism or Judaism.”

Does Jesus command this because all people are worthy, lovely?

Does he command us to do this, because if we do it, it will work every time?

Neither of those. He commands this because he “wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)

Our response to evil – a response that does not retaliate with violence – can begin with our words, when we say No and say it loudly and firmly.

There are any number of things that I see on the news that make me very angry. And that anger sometimes veers into the territory Jesus warns about. It’s why he says, don’t do it. Do not go eye for eye, tooth for tooth on this.

Let your No be No, and in the words of Paul:

‘…never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written,  “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  … if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ (Romans 12:19-21)

And here’s the kicker: Jesus calls us to do all this ‘perfectly’: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (5:48)

To be “perfect”, biblically, means to serve God wholeheartedly, single mindedly. We can choose to love our enemies, and to go the extra mile – we can make that our single-minded purpose in the world. But we can’t do it without a life shaped by spiritual disciplines. Here’s the first discipline: Be honest with yourself about how your week has been so far.

Whatever your week has been like, I would bet that there were moments when you thought about retaliation:

  • To return someone’s mean word, with a meaner word.
  • To return someone’s incompetence, with a harsh reprimand.
  • To not just go eye for eye, but body for eye; jaw for tooth.

Whatever your experience, turn to the One who knows you completely and simply confess. He is patient. He is kind. He will take away the anger and give his grace and gentleness in return.

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