A monthly update from World Mission, a ministry of the Presbyterian Mission Agency
The Mission Matters column addresses the impact of Presbyterian mission in the world and the issues that affect mission co-workers, the people we walk alongside and assist in service to God, and our partners around the globe.
September 2017 — Why the ‘second’ mile matters
Rev. Jose Luis Casal, director
Presbyterian World Mission
“… And if a soldier forces you to carry his pack for one mile, carry it for two!”
–Matthew 5:41, Complete Jewish Bible
Why is the concept of the “second mile” important in God’s mission?
This Scripture in the Gospel of Matthew is a recommendation that Jesus offered to his disciples about the way to oppose violence. When we read this passage in the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) or the Good News Translation (GNT), we discover the meaning of the second mile.
The CJB version reads, “… if a soldier forces you …,” and the GNT says, “And if one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles.” When we think in terms of soldiers, our perspective changes. These words are preceded in Matthew 5:39 by the admonition not to resist an evil person. What does it mean “not to resist”? In our daily life, lack of resistance may be perceived as a passive and submissive attitude. Yet the second mile Jesus speaks of has a different, active connotation. It makes me think of the word resilience, which is derived from the Latin verb resilire, meaning “to jump back” or “to recoil.”
Resilience is not the absence of emotion or action. Nor is it an unfeeling attitude toward pain, abuse or challenge. Instead it suggests bearing a heavier load, but not forever. It involves taking time to understand the unthinkable, but then to continue moving forward with renewed strength. Resilience is demonstrated when we recognize that life is tough and unfair, but we recover or bounce back from the impact of this reality and continue moving forward. That’s the meaning of the second mile!
The image of a soldier forcing you to carry a burden for one mile and you continuing for a second mile is symbolic of resilience, not submission. The Lord was recommending that his disciples transform their discouragement, brought on by oppressive and unjust treatment, into a strong and powerful tool. He is not asking them to carry this heavy load forever; he tells them to continue for the second mile as a nonviolent response to injustice.
In the mission field, we have many opportunities to show resilience. God’s mission is always challenging and always dangerous and could be threatening and discouraging. Our best response is to meet the challenges with resilience. In the midst of the destruction produced by hurricanes, our volunteers in Presbyterian Disaster Assistance are a symbol of resilience. The mission co-workers who serve in critical and dangerous places are symbols of resilience. The pastors and elders of the church who raise their voices to support millions of undocumented persons in the U.S. are symbols of resilience. The Dreamers are symbols of resilience.
God’s mission is painful and demands resilient people who are willing to go the second mile.
Yes, the second mile matters in God’s mission!