Summary: In this Lenten season, to focus upon "the Extra mile" our Lord went in the three phases of His life.
The Extra Mile
Now old habits die-hard! Having been an executive in a State-owned Oil marketing company for 13 years in India, (before coming into full-time spiritual service), even today I cannot restrain from reflecting on any extra-ordinary event involving the Indian oil sector.
Some time ago the State-owned Oil companies (there are only three of them in the Retail Marketing sector) came –up with branded fuels bearing catchy names such as Extra –mile. What was so different about them? Now what connection is there with this event and the Lenten season, some may muse. You would understand "as we journey along" in our Sermon drive!!! Unlike normal gasoline or diesel, these fuels (claimed their producers) carry a blend of additives guaranteed to give extra-mileage whilst driving. Though costlier than normal fuels, these fuels (it is claimed) contribute to better functioning of the engine especially in an aging vehicle by cleaning the carbon deposits and restoring its mileage back to the original optimum level. However these fuels were not received well in the Indian market, because of their relative high price. Time to switch tracks and come to the spiritual realm (high-time some I presume are already sighing)…
Well, Well… there is a mention of “Extra-mile” concept in the context of an effort in the Bible too. The only difference is that this unique “Extra-mile product” (actually a labour of love, for the Lord) comes or is at least expected to come to the world through any Christian AT NO EXTRA COST to its recipient! Now let me come finally to the spiritual realm (high time, some readers might say). Culled from the Sermon on the Mount are these words of the Saviour “If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.” (Matt 5:41-NLV). Firstly let’s understand the contextual meaning of the words spoken by our Lord (Note: By the time Jesus’ ministry began, the Jews had been under the Roman rule for nearly 90 years), before coming to its application in His own life and in our lives too in this modern age.
The Jewish audience, which Jesus was addressing, knew the context in which the Redeemer’s words were spoken. During the Roman rule in the I century A.D., the Roman soldiers were empowered by the Roman law to even forcibly (if the situation so demanded) take the assistance of the ordinary citizens of the conquered nations (under their domain) to carry their military gear for what was then construed to be a mile, which incidentally Biblical scholars claim was a distance actually measuring less than the present-day metric mile.
Naturally, the citizens of that age resented in extending a helping hand to the soldiers of a foreign country, which had subjugated them; firstly, for psychological reasons as helping these soldiers would not go down well with their self-esteem & secondly for the ordinary citizens who were not simply battle-scarred tough individuals- this was too much of a physical ask!
However Jesus wanted His followers to be different! As someone said “Winners do not do different things, they do things differently”. Imagine the surprise of a Roman soldier, so accustomed to a typical bitter response from many a Jew, when he comes across someone willing to go an extra-mile with him carrying the heavy gear, with a cheerful spirit to boot! Nine times out of ten, wouldn’t that prompt a natural query from the soldier “Hey, what makes you so different”? Now wouldn’t this spontaneous question, open the doors for a Christian to share his testimony about following Jesus, with a surprised soldier, who would now be more than willing to lend an ear? Especially to one with such a helpful disposition? Remember, sometimes all it takes to win a soul, is a meaningful conversation, triggered by the curiosity of a truth-seeker. Ask a certain Phillip…(Acts 8:26-40)!
Fast-forward to the 21st century and let’s visit a modern day office. What do we see? A Christian consistently keeps going an extra-mile in serving his employers’. He never keeps any pending work in his office but completes them in time, even if it means putting in that much of an extra-effort. Now wouldn’t this diligence attract the attention of his peers and superiors, prompting a query about the reasons’ behind his extra-ordinary commitment to work (Col 3:23)? Now wouldn’t these queries, provide him with an opportunity to witness about his relationship with the Lord? Oh, there have been so many instances’ of faithful Christians’ at work, leading their colleagues to the saving knowledge of Christ!
Absolutely unique facet about our Lord’s life and ministry was that he did not only practice what he preached but he also first and foremost PRACTISED AND THEN ONLY PREACHED!
Let’s look at the relevant Scripture portion Acts 1:1 in support of this observation…‘In my former book Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do & teach’. Focus on the sequencing of the words; the word “DO” precedes word “TEACH” right? So, if he has preached about going the extra-mile, it follows that, he would have gone the Extra-mile himself. Where? Before answering this question, let it be said that our Lord’s life, can be divided into three phases’