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going the extra mile

March 31, 2009


can love save the world?

can love save the world?

In my women’s group this evening, we talked about encouraging others, and of reacting with love instead of violence when violence is done to us. One woman used as an example her kids calling other kids names in reaction to something the other kids had done and using the opportunity to teach them about reacting in a better way. I thought about the “turning the other cheek” phrase that comes to mind in these situations and was reminded of  wonderful article I read in YES! Magazine (a publication about positive strategies for ecological and social sustainability) about some of the teachings of nonviolence that Jesus gave to his followers.


The messages really resonated with me, even though I am not a Christian. Ever since I read this article back in 2002, I have been thinking about it. It places some of the teachings in their historical context and in so doing, makes them infinitely more understandable and doable. For example, this excerpt refers to “going the extra mile”, nowadays thought of as doing more work we don’t want to do because we know we should, even though we will receive nothing for it and it is harder for us.

“Jesus’ third example refers to the angeria, the law that permitted a Roman soldier to force a civilian to carry his 65 to 85 pound pack. But the law stipulated one mile only. At the second marker the soldier was required to retrieve his pack. By carrying the pack more than a mile, the peasant makes the soldier culpable for violation of military law. Again, Jesus is not just “extending himself” by going the second mile, as the popular platitude puts it. He is putting the soldier in jeopardy of punishment.”

So he was advocating nonviolent resistance. The civilians did not want to go the first mile, but they had to. But going into that second mile was a creative way of retaliating! This is total empowerment of the civilian, something that was desperately needed at the time, and is needed now too in our daily lives. Children can even practice it on the playground. They need not let other kids kick them around, but they needn’t kick back either—they can come up with creative ways of resisting insults. And kids are so creative, imagine what they could come up with! What a lesson we can teach our children: neither passive nor aggressive, but creative.

The article gives a few other examples too including an explanation of “turning the other cheek” that actually makes sense. Jesus was certainly the revolutionary, empowering us to take charge of our own lives even if we initially feel powerless—he advocated peaceful resistance as opposed to violent revolution. A peaceful resistance that begins in the heart and extends to the real world.

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