More than the Minimum

March 7th, 2012

Matthew 5:38-42

The teenage boy was tapped on the shoulder by the flat blade of a sword. Turning around, he looked into the face of a despised Roman soldier who said, “Here, boy, take my bag—and none of your lip, or I’ll give you the boot!” Under the Roman right of impressment, the soldier had the right to ask the boy to carry his bag for a mile, to run an errand for a mile, or to guide him for a mile. The boy picked up the bag, carrying it exactly one mile and no more. He then threw it down in the dust, muttered something under his breath, and returned home. Everyone in Jesus’ audience understood the illustration Jesus was using in Matthew 5:41. But how did they react to these sayings of Jesus? “Do more than is demanded. Go two miles!” I feel their reaction was very similar to what ours would be. Perhaps they murmured, “No way!”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sought to help the disciples understand the nature and demand of the gospel. This was not only a gift to be enjoyed or a doctrine to be defended but also a life to be lived. Jesus’ entire sermon is a challenge to perfection; however, it is also an ideal toward which all Christians must strive. Few passages in the New Testament have more of the essence of the Christian ethic than this one.

In verses 38 and 39, Jesus quotes from the oldest known law in the world, the Code of Hammurabi (2285 to 2242 B.C.E.), which is based on the principle known as lex talionis—what we describe as “tit for tat.” We can find it in the Old Testament three times (Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 19:21). Jesus’ interpretation is instructive. He says we are not to resist, that is, “fight against,” or “stand against” evil. In other words, we are not to govern our actions toward others by their reactions to us.

The “slap on the face” or the “turning of the other cheek” is our Lord’s way of saying that we are to live above the desire for revenge and the spirit of retaliation so characteristic of our society. The idea of “the tunic and the cloak” teaches us we are to go beyond what is demanded of us. Finally, the matter of giving is related to the totality of stewardship and must be understood both as privilege and as obligation. All giving, according to the Lord, is nothing less than giving to God. Jesus pointed this out by saying that feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, taking in the stranger, visiting the sick, and visiting the prisoners were all services unto God (Matthew 25:31-46).

All these ideas are summed up in verse 41. Obviously Jesus was laying down an eternal principle: “Do more than is demanded of you in life.” We are told that Jewish boys living under Roman rule staked off exactly a mile down the road from their houses and never went beyond the stake. Let’s be honest! Sometimes the demands of duty are a load in themselves. When we have to do something that we resent, we, like these Jewish boys, do it grudgingly. We look for the minimum we can do and seek to do no more. Tell a child to make his bed, and he wants to know if he has to put on the bedspread. Assign a paper to a class in school and you will hear, “How long does it have to be?” The legalism of the Pharisees is not dead! The rich young ruler mentioned by the Lord in Luke, chapter 18, is a good illustration. This individual wanted religion on his own terms. He even told the Lord he lived by the rules and the regulations. He was as straight as a gun barrel doctrinally but just as empty spiritually. He never got beyond the mile marker!

Now take another look at that young Jewish lad. What if he had taken the bag and gone past the mile marker? Did he hear Jesus preach this very sermon? Do you think this made a difference?

Actually, the entire plan of redemption is second-mile stuff. The law demanded nothing of God. People knew the law and deliberately disobeyed. God gave humankind a second chance by going beyond the mile marker. God did this because of God’s great love for us. When you get right down to it, the second mile is one of consecration not compulsion, of opportunity not regulation.

Thinking of stewardship in terms not of law but of grace brings us to a new concept. Unlike the rich young ruler whose possessions possessed him, we now begin to think in terms of maximums not minimums; and rather than how little we can give, we consider how much we might be able to give. This involves the totality of our being—our talents, our treasures, and our time. When we think about our salvation, we know we cannot out-give God.

If we go beyond duty, three things will inevitably happen. We all know we have kingdom responsibilities. When we accept this and do more than the minimum, we can say we did something and sleep with a free conscience. That’s first. Second, we can live in the company of the committed. We read of many in the New Testament who walked the second mile. Mary with her alabaster box and the widow in the Temple giving out of her poverty, as well as those first apostles, all living beyond the demands of duty. Third, we can live in the companionship of Christ, the One who said, “Follow me.” If we do, I assure you, it will be beyond the mile marker. Then we will know the real joy of stewardship, and the church worldwide will be blessed immeasurably.

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