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7th Sunday in Ordinary Time – The Extra Mile

extra mile“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants
to borrow.
‘You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust'” (Matthew 5:38-45).
By following literally Jesus’ words in the first part of the passage, we will live a Christian life by not seeking retribution, by giving to those in need, by helping others, and by loving everyone—our friends and enemies alike. But the point Jesus makes is that we should not just do the minimum but go beyond it.
It’s easy to interpret the part of this passage that speaks of “going the extra mile”—the origin of that oft-used phrase—to mean that, with a gracious spirit, we should do more than is required, but it would have have had a particular context for someone of Jesus’ time. A Roman soldier could compel a person in an occupied country to carry a load for a mile. The service was compulsory, but the distance was limited. Jesus tells his followers to go two miles—to give much more than what was required.
What Jesus suggests here is a method of pointing out the injustice of the required mile. The willingly-served second mile would draw attention to the unjust nature of the first. In the same way, acts of nonviolent civil disobedience by people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. exposed, and eventually changed, unjust societal structures.
Although it is impractical, if not impossible, to give to all who beg from us, if we recognize the needs of the desperately poor and work to correct the underlying systemic problems that lead to poverty, we are doing what Jesus instructs.
By asking us to love our enemies, Jesus challenges us to love others as completely as we are able, believing the best about their motives, wanting good things for them, recognizing that they are also loved by God, treating them with respect. We don’t have to like them, only love them.
How does this Gospel passage challenge you in regard to loving your enemies?
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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