In my last post, I stated that Jesus is moving into a series of very difficult teachings. Anyone can affirm His thoughts about honesty and kindness, but can you cope with His teachings about submissiveness in the face of being wronged or cheated?
I’ll warn you upfront, this section of Jesus’ Sermon On the Mount has many implications for the year we just lived through. Specifically, Jesus seems to be speaking to standing up for our personal rights and freedoms. As Americans, our personal rights are perhaps our number one shared value. You’ll likely hear Jesus’ words and immediately try to find ways around His radical lifestyle. We look for “Phew!-moments”. We hear His words, they bring conviction or anger, and we try to find other scriptures that produce a relieving, “Phew!”. “Ok… I have this other scripture which lets me off the hook!” I would encourage you, rather than look for an immediate out, to instead let the heart of Jesus’ teachings settle in. What might God want for you to hear and apply from the words of His Son? Here we go…
40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
To get the full force of those three verses, let me remind you about the previous verses from my last blogpost. Jesus says, “Do not resist and evil person.” So these are a few more examples of what evil people may do along with Jesus’ desired responses from His followers.
1. In verse 40, Jesus uses the corrupt judicial system of His day as an example. In the ancient world of Jesus, those with wealth and influence could very easily manipulate the court system to their advantage. It would have been an easy thing for someone with connections to gain from their enemy by taking them to court on a fabricated charge. It is no stretch to assume that Jesus’ audience would have immediately made the leap. Jesus was saying, “When you’re outflanked and taken advantage of by the system, don’t resist. Live for more than fairness.”
2. In verse 41, Jesus hits below the belt. The Jews were fiercely oppressed by an evil government. In Revelation, Rome and their military is referred to as “The Beast”. One of the oppressions dealt out by the empire was a rule that forced a Jew to carry a Roman soldiers gear for up to one mile. There is plenty written about Jewish hatred for this and also about how Roman soldiers abused this rule. By forcing Jews to carry their gear, it rubbed salt in the wounds as to who was boss. You were also assisting the oppressor in carrying out the oppression. You had to alter your day, submit to authority, and deal with the humiliation that resulted. Picture the Russians defeating the Americans. Now they have military presence in our land. We pay oppressive taxes to their leaders. Their troops are allowed to use you as an Uber whenever they want. Do you think that would cause issued in America? #MERICA… how do you think rural America would respond to a situation where a 45 year old veteran was told by an 18 year old Russian soldier to get off the tractor and drive him to base? Think of all those dynamics! They could ask a Jew to carry their pack up to one mile. How does Jesus say they should respond? Should they take a stand? Should they resist The Beast? Should they fight for their Christian rights? “Go with them two miles…”. Unthinkable.
3. “Give to the one who asks, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow?” This is in the context of resisting an evil person. I can only assume that Jesus is referring to the idea of getting taken advantage of. You know that guy is going to spend that money on alcohol. You know she ‘s never going to pay you back. You’re getting used! How does Jesus say you should respond?
THESE ARE VERY DIFFICULT TEACHINGS! It’s no wonder at all that Jesus was crucified in a joint effort between the empire and those oppressed by the empire. Think about that! Jesus’ teachings were so radical that they briefly united the Roman Empire and the people oppressed by the empire.
Is Jesus using exaggeration? Probably to some extent. How much? I don’t know. Jesus did not cling to His God-status. He submitted to God’s will, gave up His comforts and protection, gave up His rights and was chained and beaten, gave up His authority to be condemned. Gave up His life and was crucified. I can’t look at Jesus example and see much to say He was using hyperbole in His above examples. He was wronged by the courts and didn’t speak up. He performed miracles on behalf of Roman commanders. He gave to those who had no interest in remaining loyal to Him.
I’ve recently witnessed Christians lose their minds over protecting their rights. I’ve seen followers of Jesus enraged by court rulings. We’re often deeply concerned over people coming to our country and getting “something for nothing”. All of those things don’t seem to mesh well with Jesus’ above teachings.
Listen… I’m in this with you. There are dozens of what-if questions that rush into my mind. My mind races for ,“Phew!”, as I try to cope with the implications of straightforward application of these ridiculous teachings from Jesus. I don’t want to lose my rights. I don’t want to get taken advantage of.
What do these scriptures say about wearing a mask? About getting a vaccine? About that cousin who’s always asking for money?
The power of these teachings lies within our desire to mine for significance and strive for obedience. These scriptures are meant to keep us up at night wrestling with their implications. They are meant to be shocking, disturbing and frustrating.
Imagine two friends in the ancient world making the long walk home from the hillside that day. They are tired and hungry from a long day and a long walk. They just heard this new teacher unleash these radical new ideas into Jewish consciousness. Imagine them discussing the far-reaching implications! Suddenly, a Roman soldier approaches them and says, “So which one of you is gonna carry my gear for a mile back the way you came from?”