When I was a little girl, the distance of two miles had a very specific meaning for me.
You see, we lived out in the country, and the nearest small town was just about two miles away. It was a very rural area – although we didn’t live on a farm, most people out there did, and there were maybe eight farm houses strung along that two mile stretch of road. When my brothers and I wanted to go to town – something we often wanted to do, so that we could look around the drugstore, maybe buy a Cherry Coke or a candy bar or even a 45 record (remember those?!), we walked or rode our bikes those two miles.
At about the one mile mark, there was a house – and that one wasn’t actually a farmhouse, for Mr. Lampkey, who owned it, had only about four or five acres. Mr. Lampkey was a scary kind of guy, at least to children. I don’t know that he intended to be scary – if he passed us in his car, he always raised his right hand in a greeting, as country folks generally did. But his car was an old clunker, and so was his house. His house always looked as if it were going to slide right into the overgrown grass surrounding it. And after he died, it pretty much did.
But the really scary thing about Mr. Lampkey, at least as far as children on foot or on bikes were concerned, was his dogs. Mr. Lampkey always owned two or three huge German shepherds, and they lolled about in the middle of the road as if they were the road’s owners. Which I guess they were, because what child is going to mess with an 80-pound German shepherd? We had lots of dogs as we were growing up, and we all loved dogs, and those German shepherds never did anything except stretch out and yawn so that we could see their teeth – but they sure looked menacing to a couple of ten-year-olds trying to sneak by them.
For us, going the second mile, going the second mile which we needed to take to get to town or, in the other direction, to get back home, meant passing those dogs. Going the second mile meant that we needed to face a challenge. Going the second mile meant that we needed to overcome fear.
Now, Jesus says some hard things, some difficult things, to us this morning:
Turn the other cheek.
Give your cloak as well.
Walk the second mile.
Love your enemies.
Really, Jesus? This is what you want of us? All of these things are counterintuitive, aren’t they? These are not things that we do naturally. But – is this what you mean when you say, “I have come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it”? “To complete it”?
Jesus acknowledges that these commands of his do not come naturally to us. In fact, the old law itself did not require them. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” – that was the very old law. A law that exacted justice in the sense that that wrongs done to someone had to be evened out – not ignored, and not exceeded, but evened out, at least insofar as they could be. “An eye for an eye” – well, if someone put your eye out, the punishment imposed, the putting out of his own eye, did not return your eye to you. But at least the wrongdoer suffered in equal measure and, more importantly – the wrongdoer doid not suffer more than you did out of some misplaced sense of revenge. You could not kill someone who put out your eye. Even the old law enforced a degree of restraint.
But Jesus is not talking about restraint. Jesus does not take the position that we are creatures of such extreme limitation that the best we can do, the most we can do, is to prevent ourselves from harming someone even more than they have damaged us. That approach is merely a starting point.
Jesus seeks much more from us, much more for us, than merely “an eye for an eye.”
Jesus does not see us merely as creatures of limitation, as people who have to be restrained from making matters worse rather than better.
What have we been saying these past weeks about who we are? About what God longs for from us?
We are people of justice and joy. We are people of grace and peace. We are people who scatter salt and light. We are people who bring God’s love out into the open. We are people who choose life.
We are God’s beloved.
And how do we demonstrate who we are?
We don’t hit back, or yank out another’s eye. We turn the other cheek.
We don’t respond defensively to another’s greediness. We hand over what they seek, and more as well – the other cloak.
We don’t turn our backs on those in need. We give, or we lend.
We don’t merely love those whom we value as family, friends, neighbors, and allies. We extend love to enemies – to the family member who has hurt us, to the friend who has misunderstood us, to the neighbor whose child trampled our garden, to the political opponent in the other party, or on the other side of the world.
And: We let go of fear and we walk the second mile.
Now you might not know it, but that word ”walk” is an intriguing word in Hebrew, in the language of the Old Testament.
Let me start explaining with a bit of a digression. Most of you know that I used to teach in an Orthodox Jewish school. In an Orthodox school, the students follow two curricula. They study all the usual subjects – English, history, math, science. But they also take a full load of Jewish subjects: Hebrew language, Jewish history, scripture, and law.
You may know that, for the Jewish people, the law is God’s revelation of who God is and how God is in relationship with us. For us, that revelation is Jesus Christ: he shows us who God is, and he is God in relationship with is – as friend, as companion, as guide, as teacher, as healer, as redeemer, as hope, as love, as light, as life. But for the Jewish people, God’s law, starting with the commandments given to Moses and flowing through history as interpreted and applied to daily life – that law is revelation and relationship. And the word for law is halacha. I got used to hearing that word in my Jewish school teaching days, because the high school students took a course in halacha each year, and they were constantly debating halachic interpretations and applications.
Imagine my surprise when I got to my seminary course in Hebrew and learned that the Hebrew word for “walk” is halach. Halach – halacha – in Hebrew, the root word for the word “law” and the word “walk” is the same Of course, it makes sense: If you follow the law, you walk in the way of God. If you walk in the way of God, you discover and follow the law.
And what does Jesus tell us? In the Sermon on the Mount, parts of which we’ve been exploring the last couple of weeks, he tells us that he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Not to destroy the law, but to complete it. To enlarge it. To invite us into a law that expands and creates.
And today he tells us: Walk the second mile. Walk the second mile in fulfillment of the law. Walk the second mile as a follower of the one who completes the law.
Go further. Go a longer distance. Accept the challenge. Walk past fear. Cross the barriers.
To walk the second mile does not mean, not necessarily, to double the tangible distance you walk. To walk the second mile means that you understand that you are not called to a mile, or a walk, of limitation, of scarcity. You are called to a life of more, of abundance.
To walk the second mile means to walk in companionship with Jesus, to walk in the way of God.
To walk the second mile means to walk in attentiveness to the world around you.
To walk the second mile means to walk in openness toward the needs that surround you.
To walk the second mile means to walk with the confidence that comes with knowing that you are a beloved child of God.
To walk the second mile? Maybe it means that as you are walking from your car into the grocery store, you stop to help the man who is struggling to manage his walker while he pulls the door open.
Maybe it means that you open your eyes to see, to really see, the other people on the street or at the bus stop or in the airport and to say a prayer for them as you walk on.
Maybe, on the third Sunday of the month, it means that you walk into the kitchen to help with the community meal.
Maybe, if you are in a wheelchair or a in hospital bed, to walk the second mile means to walk into a deeper life of prayer.
To walk the second mile means to walk past fear. To walk the second mile means to know that you are not called to a mile, or a walk, of anxiety or worry.
To walk the second mile means that you are called to accept challenges, to cross the same barriers Jesus crossed. To walk the second mile means that you are called to a walk, to a life, of courage, of hope, of light.
To walk the second mile? Maybe it means that you walk into a doctor’s office or a hospital in trust that you are held in God’s hands.
Maybe it means that you walk into a challenging assignment or situation and cast aside the “buts” – but it will take too long, but it will be too hard, but I don’t know how to do this.
Maybe it means that you walk in a protest march, or onto a speakers’ platform, or into a school to educate kids about an issue that matters to you.
Maybe it means that on the last Saturday of the month you join the Lakeshore Ministries’ Prayer Walk through Euclid – which, by the way, we are finally hosting at the end of March – so that you can walk, or perhaps sit in the sanctuary, in prayer with your church community, your neighbors, and complete strangers, all walking and listening for God’s call to this community.
To walk the second mile? It’s not really about walking, is it? It’s not about feet or walking shoes, or orthopedic boots or crutches. The second mile is about identity. It’s about who we are and who we are called to be. The second mile is about who walks with us and shapes us into the people we are created to be.
The apostle Paul remind us today that, “you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” To walk the second mile means to live deeply into that knowledge – that you belong, that you are beloved, and that you are called – not to less, but to more; not to scarcity, but to abundance, not to fear, but to hope. Know who you are, walk into the light, and walk with the one who accompanies you on the second mile! Amen.