My friend Thomas Thompson, Lead Pastor of Pulpit Rock Church in Colorado Springs, recently gave a message called “The Second Mile” (watch it here). As I listened to Thomas’ crafted presentation of Matthew 5, it occurred to me how symbolic verse 41 is of current missional church efforts. As many of us attempt to take the Ecclesia outside the walls of church buildings, where we all live out our faith in intentional and incarnational ways, Matthew 5:41 gives us the picture of what that looks like in metaphorical ways.
Thomas prodded the question into us in various ways (I summarize), is our faith about doing what we’re supposed to do, or is our faith more about doing the things we don’t have to do? As followers of Christ, we all have lists of things in our head that constitute a “well-lived” christian life. But even if we check off all the thing on our list, does that really define how we are to live? If we succeed in a full week of going to bible study, having quiet times, not cussing, not getting angry, etc… have we really succeeded in our calling as those who follow Jesus?
41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Matthew 5:41 (ESV)
When Jesus tells the crowd to go two miles instead of one, they don’t look curiously at hearing his statement like we do. In their context, it was Roman law that a soldier could ask a Jew to carry their pack one mile for them. The Jew was required to carry it for that mile, but then could drop it and return to what they were doing. Thomas’ point, and Jesus’ also I should add, was that one step past the one-mile marker changed the act from an obligation of serving, to serving the other person out of a desire to love them.
When we, as “good Christians”, do all the things we are supposed to do, we fulfill the world’s expectations and live within the status quo of our christian club. Even though we may live as an example to each other, following all the unwritten rules of our subculture, we fail to live as salt and light to the rest of the world…we lose our missionality.
Going the second mile defines mission.
When Jesus said, “you are the light of the world, a city on a hill”, he is speaking with the tone of verbs, not nouns or just adjectives. He wants us to live as light, actually carry light, go the second mile into dark and broken places, joining God on his mission to redeem the people of the world. It’s not enough to light a torch and hang it on the wall, we must carry the light into the caves of cultural brokenness and lead people out along the same path we are walking and traveling.
Doing the list of things that help us grow in our faith and knowledge of scripture and the Lord are not bad things, but just maybe we should ask how we, or our congregation, can go the second mile so that we also fulfill our identity as Christ-followers. Knowing more about God will not define our identity as a Christ-follower…going the second mile for someone just might.
Kitty and I are in the midst of carrying a couple of packs the extra mile right now. I don’t mention this to applaud our actions, but simply to give an example for other brothers and sisters who follow Jesus with us, and also because Thomas’ message was a great reminder to me and my wife of why we were doing what we’re doing. We were asked, by a mom (and also by God), to foster two children while she gets her life back together. Do we have time? no. Do we have financial resources? not right now. Do we have the emotional bandwidth? no. But we do have this identity that we take seriously, a Jesus person, a follower of The Way, people who want to live out the teachings of Jesus. I suspect that we may be carrying these packs more than two miles, and it’s hard, heavy, and a lot of work. Carrying packs makes you sweat. In the end, we will be able to go back to what we were doing, but for now, we get to serve along with God in his mission, to bring peace and light into a broken place.
If we want the church to regain her voice and her calling as a missional group of people who love God and love their neighbor, we must teach people to carry packs. We must all keep an eye tuned for places where packs are laying on the ground, ready to be hoisted on our shoulder and carried an extra mile. It’s in those situations where we will surprise the world, and show that we love people just like God does. It’s when we have a pack on our back that we look most like Jesus.