CARRYING SOMEONE ELSE'S LOAD
It may be that someday your friends and family will gather at the bedside and watch you fighting for life. They are not gawking at you; they are entering the edges of your suffering. They need to let you know that love still exists and you matter. Let them come to your bedside.
On Jesus dying day, there were many brief conversations, forlorn glances and necessary steps to complete. Friends, family and complete strangers were drawn into the vortex of his death experience. A Libyan man named Simon was passing by when he was suddenly pulled into a gruesome close encounter.
One of the Roman soldiers conscripted Simon of Cyrene along the Via Dolorosa. Roman soldiers could do that. They could stop a citizen and had legal authority to put them to work carrying their luggage for one mile. After that, they would need to recruit someone else to carry the load further.
On this day, the unnamed soldier put Simon to work. Not wanting his prisoner Jesus to die along the way and seeing that the load was quite heavy, he conscripted a nearby able body. The soldier had to get this job done right or be answerable to his superiors. There was no time for delay.
Art sometimes betrays the facts. Think about pictures of Jesus carrying his cross to Calvary. Did Jesus carry a fully assembled cross down the road or was it just the crossbar?
The weight of the entire cross was probably over 300 pounds (136 kg) while that of the patibulum ranged between 75 and 125 pounds (34-57kg). It is highly likely that only the patibulum was carried by the victim and this was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced on both shoulders.
( Dr. Andreas Lambrianides, http://www.scionofzion.com/cross_of_christ.htm )
As Jesus collapsed under the weight and watched Simon being forced into carrying his load, He may have remembered the words He had so recently taught.
Matthew 5:41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Everyone dreaded the extra work that came with Roman occupation. People had their own work to do and schedules to keep. Going a mile for a soldier was costly in that moment.
Whole villages sometimes fled to avoid being forced to carry soldier’s baggage. (Walter Wink, The Powers That Be, Three Rivers Press )
Why would Jesus teach us to go twice as far when told to do something against our will? He describes a situation that everyone tries to avoid. No one likes to be forced to do anything. We have an innate sense of violation about such incidents and cannot wait to reclaim our freedom, our schedule and our lives. We resist being anyone’s slave.
When you make a choice to go the second mile, it puts the power back in your hands. The second mile allows you to meet the needs of another, even showing love and blessing to an enemy.
What we have overlooked in this passage is the fact that carrying the pack a second mile is an infraction of military code. With few exceptions, minor infractions were left to the disciplinary control of the centurion (commander of one hundred men). He might fine the offending soldier, flog him, put him on a ration of barley instead of wheat, make him camp outside the fortifications, force him to stand all day before the general’s tent holding a clod of dirt in his hands—or, if the offender was a buddy, issue a mild reprimand. But the point is that the soldier does not know what will happen.
It is in this context of Roman military occupation that Jesus speaks. He does not counsel revolt.… But why carry the soldier’s pack a second mile? Does this not go to the opposite extreme by aiding and abetting the enemy? Not at all. The question here, as in the two previous instances, is how the oppressed can recover the initiative and assert their human dignity in a situation that cannot for the time being be changed. The rules are Caesar’s, but how one responds to the rules is God’s, and Caesar has no power over that.
Imagine, then, the soldier’s surprise when, at the next mile marker, he reluctantly reaches to assume his pack, and the civilian says, “Oh, no, let me carry it another mile.” Why would he want to do that?
(Walter Wink, The Powers That Be, Three Rivers Press)
Jesus not only teaches us to be humble servants, but to be imaginative in responding to oppressive situations. Rather than remaining quietly resentful, the conscripted slave offers a powerful witness of human kindness and godly character.
The first mile may be an unwelcome obligation, but the second mile is a gift. Law might enforce the first mile, but there is no law against showing love. We should be careful how we do the first mile.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The second mile principle involves responding with patience rather than hostility to forceful people. Much of Jesus’ teaching shows us how to deal with those who are dysfunctional toward you.