On Tuesday I talked about the way studying the Bible and understanding the culture of biblical times can help unlock deeper meaning in the Bible. Today I want to share a great example of this. This is something that came from my brother as we had a conversation about studying the Bible. In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus is dispensing some awesome and deep wisdom and teaching.
Matthew 5:38-42 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
It’s a pretty well known section of teaching, but something in there stands out to me and always has. It’s verse 41. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Uh, okay. I always just sort of read past it, figuring it meant something generic like “if you have to go with someone a little ways go ahead and go a long ways”, like it was just a go above and beyond kind of thing. Turns out, this ties directly into something going on in their culture at the time.
At the time, Romans occupied the land Jesus and those he was speaking to were in. And the Romans had a rule that must’ve been downright infuriating. If a Roman official walked by you they could legally demand you stop whatever you’re doing and carry their stuff for them for a mile. And you had to do it. You were obligated under Roman rules to carry their junk for a mile. So now that we’ve studied a little and we understand the culture, this rule of the time, look again at the above verse and at what Jesus is saying. Jesus takes this infuriating rule, this way in which the occupiers of the land really lorded themselves over the locals, and he doubles it. If they force you to carry their stuff for a mile, then take it a second mile too.
This is slowly turning into a study within a study, and I promise I’m gonna get back to the book of Jonah at some point, but I just have to comment on this. Like we did earlier this week, let’s imagine a little. Your homeland has been invaded by the Romans. You fought the war, you lost, and now your new rulers walk your streets, they impose their laws and rules on you. It’s a terrible situation. You’d look at these occupiers as the enemy. Every time you saw them enjoying your land and your cities you’d burn with anger and maybe even hatred towards them. Deep down you’d long for retaliation, for a day when you could drive them out of your land. And then a Roman official walks by and sees you, and he motions you over. He’s got some soldiers with him, and so you begrudgingly walk over.
“Pick up my trunk and these two bags and carry them for a mile,” the official says smugly.
You want to resist, you want to spit in his face, but the snarl on the soldiers and the way they’re gripping their swords tells you it’d be the last mistake you ever make. So you stop whatever you were doing. Your plans for the day no longer matter. You pick up the trunk, and man is it heavy! You awkwardly hook your arm through the straps on the two bags, and dang, they’re heavy too! The official and his soldiers head off down the road and you scurry behind them, sweat already forming on your forehead from the weight of all this baggage.
Now, I want to think about this Roman official. I can only imagine the responses he’s used to getting when he demands people carry his stuff. I’m sure people did defy the order. Some probably got killed for it, and I’m sure many got jailed over it. The official probably got cursed, attacked, spit on, the works. And even those who did what he told them and picked up the bags, you know he could feel their hate. They’d stare daggers at him, probably even mutter curses over him and his people as they carried his bags.
So now look back at what Jesus is saying. This official finds a person and says “You there, pick up my stuff and carry it a mile.” But this time, the person doesn’t fight it, they don’t curse or cuss or spit, they just grab the stuff and start following along. A mile goes by and the official turns around, ready to relieve the person. But the person just keeps the bags in his hands. “Let’s go another mile,” the person carrying the bags says. How many times did a Roman official hear this? Probably none. But you think about Jesus’ teaching on this matter, and that whole section out of Matthew I showed earlier, and you see that it’s all built around going the extra mile. It’s about giving undeserved mercy, undeserved favor, giving more than what’s asked even in unfair situations. If that Roman official got to the end of mile one, and the person kept carrying and said he’s happy to carry for a second mile, imagine what that would do. That Roman official, if there is any goodness in him at all, is going to turn to this person and say “Who are you, and why have you gone above and beyond for me today?” And boom, just like that the door is open. “Well, you see, I believe in this God…”
So two things here before I end this study within a study. First of all, even if the Roman rule of carrying an official’s stuff for a mile is no longer something we have to worry about, the message of this section of Matthew is still incredibly relevant. As true followers of Jesus, we should be trying to live this part of the Bible whenever and however often as we can. In the face of unfairness we should show kindness, we should meet anger with peace, hatred with love, and undue hardship with a joyful attitude. Persevere in showing undeserved kindness until those putting the hardship on you can’t stand it any more and they’re forced to say “Who are you, and why have you continued to treat me with kindness when I’ve been so nasty to you?” And boom, just like that the door is open.
Finally, I want to bring this back around to studying the Bible. Had I never discussed the Bible with my brother, had he never taken the time to dig into teachings and the history surrounding the book of Matthew, I’d never have known about the true meaning of Matthew 5:41. The whole passage still meant a lot to me, it still taught me in deep ways, but my study unlocked it for me fully. No longer is part of it lost to me due to cultural differences. Yes, it took more time than simply reading the verse would’ve, but the rewards given to me for studying over just reading are humongous and continual. To have a deeper understanding of God’s word is to have a deeper understanding of God himself, and who wouldn’t want that?
CLOSING AND PRAYER
As my study of Jonah continues on Monday, I finally return my focus to the actual book of Jonah! I’m thankful that the Lord leads me down paths of study and thought and that what began as a look at just one book turned into a deeper study of the Bible in general. But on Monday, I’m back to Jonah and the major themes of the book that jumped out at me.
For prayers today, let’s just lift up all the moms around us. I’ve been spending the day today with my mom working on my house and I’m just so thankful that of all the possible people on earth, God saw fit to make her my mom. I’m also thankful for all the moms everywhere. Being a mother seems like the hardest job in the world to me, so let’s just pray for blessings and wisdom and strength for all the moms out there.
That’s it for this week on the blog. I love you guys very much, and I hope you all have a safe and enjoyable weekend. As you move through this Halloween weekend, know that God is with you. You are His child, and He loves you deeply and dearly.