Posted by: Ascentury | Monday, 16 June 2008

The second mile

¶ Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: ∙But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. ∙And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. ∙And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. ∙Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
–Matthew 5:38-42

The gospel of the second mile. Christ exemplifies the practical application of this most practical doctrine throughout his eternal ministry. Consider, for a moment, the Parable of the Good Samaritan:

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. ∙And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. ∙And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. ∙But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, ∙and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. ∙And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
–Luke 10:30-35

It was morally incumbent on the Samaritan to bind the man’s wounds and care for him, even to go so far as the inn with him. Certainly no less would be expected by any ethical system, but note the further action of the Samaritan–he pays, in advance, for the further care his charge will require. We can nod knowingly at this gesture and say, “He was certainly a charitable man,” but I think that if that alone were the target of this parable, Jesus wouldn’t have watered down the precious words of his few parables with gratuity. No, this line from the Fisher of Men is intended to draw us into deeper waters of truth.

And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

Jesus Christ is inviting us to go a mile farther than we have been compelled to go, as included in the Sermon on the Mount, the seminal moral discourse for any Christian. He’s reminding us that part of life is putting more in than you receive. I know that in a salvational sense that isn’t true, but in interpersonal relationships it can be, and must be, if we are to bring souls to Christ.

In the Book of Mormon, Jesus spent an entire day with the people of the New World preaching, teaching, and prophesying. Towards the late afternoon, he drew his ministering to a close:

Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.
–3 Nephi 17:3

The Nephites sadly considered Jesus’ departure, but, as the record states, “they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them (3 Nephi 17:5).” Strictly speaking, the Lord’s ministry for the day among the Nephites was complete, for he had taught them the principles of the gospel. Here, however, was an opportunity to go the second mile. Jesus spent much longer in direct ministry to the Nephites, and their lame, and their children. Marvelous miracles, on the scale of those at Jerusalem, were performed for God’s children in America, and the sacrament was administered for the first time in that new dispensation of grace. The second mile.

In the broadest sense, the Atonement itself embodies this principle. We know that Christ paid the price for our moral separation from God, due to the Fall:

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; ∙being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: ∙whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.
–Romans 3:23-25

We learn through modern revelation that the Atonement was, however, broader than this, and that Christ took upon himself even more:

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. ∙And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
–Alma 7:11-12

Jesus Christ took upon himself voluntarily death. He took upon himself voluntarily sin. These were necessary elements for our redemption. However, he also chose to take upon himself our infirmities, that he might know how to succor (from L. to run to) us. The Holy One of Israel chose to set the ultimate example for us of going the second mile, and succoring us beyond what we may view as having strictly been required.

Now I’ve written a bit about what is required ethically. I suggest that what is “required”, in that sense, is insufficient. It draws us into a terrestrial sphere, but not into the celestial.

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? ∙And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? ∙Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
–Matthew 5:46-48

This is the genius of true Christianity, the deeper requirement that is so often glossed over. In total consecration, more than the minimum, ethically required good is performed, and the maximum good is sought.

Freely ye have received, freely give.
–Matthew 10:8

The iron rod is two miles long: one mile from the lonely way of Eden to the gate of salvation, and another to the circles of exaltation.

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