If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. ~ Matthew 5.40-42 ~
Christ continues his teaching on the legal rights of the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. We saw yesterday that Christ wants his disciples to know that two wrongs don’t make a right. He continues to take behavior to the next level, giving situations that would have been difficult to understand at the time.
Christ first references a law from the Hebrew code. Exodus 22.25-27 says: “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest. If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious.” It was a basic legal right for a person to retain his outer garment, even if someone literally sued the shirt off of him. However, Jesus challenges his disciples to give up this legal right. Indeed, giving up both articles of clothing would have been an odd response!
The Roman soldiers occupying Israel at the time enacted a law that said they could force natural citizens of the land to carry their heavy military pack for a distance of a thousand paces (one mile). A soldier could not force the citizen to carry it any further, but Christ literally tells his disciples to go the extra mile. A Jewish group of the time, the Zealots, would have not agreed with this teaching. Mainly composed of freedom fighters and assassins, the Zealots fought in any way they could to liberate Israel from the grip of the Roman occupation. Jesus even had a Zealot as one of his Twelve Apostles! Can you imagine the look on Simon the Zealot’s face when he heard this teaching?
Jesus then encourages his disciples to give freely to those who ask, and to loan freely as well. One can almost hear the muttering in the crowd: “Are we just to be taken advantage of, then?” Yet, in the Kingdom of Heaven, the matter of advantage does not carry much weight. We remember Christ’s earlier teaching: “You are the light of the world…” We remember the Beatitudes, the realities of the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who live in the Kingdom of Heaven do not fret and worry about their rights, for they know their Heavenly Father meets their needs.
What is the basis for treating our opponents and enemies in this way? We will study that issue a bit more in the next section, but for now, we hear Christ’s challenge to be gracious, even generous, in matters of conflict. What if we sought peace even from those who desired to make war with us? How would our lives be changed?
Lord Christ, I confess that I do not want to budge even the slightest for those who oppress me, much less give them more than I absolutely have to. But you again command a different way! Change my heart, Lord. Help me to show your love, grace, generosity, and peace, even to my enemies. Amen.