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Nonviolence Playlets - compiled by Walter Wink - page 17 / 29





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3.  Go the Second Mile

 Need  3 cordless or clip on mikes, one for each, 1 backpack.

 Text: “If one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one

mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:41).

 Background:  Going the second mile, Jesus' third example, is drawn from

the relatively enlightened practice of limiting to a single mile the

amount of forced or impressed labor that Roman soldiers could levy on

subject peoples.  Such compulsory service was a constant feature in

Palestine from Persian to late Roman times.  Whoever was found on the

street could be coerced into service, as was Simon of Cyrene, who was

forced to carry Jesus' cross (Mark 15:21).  Armies had to be moved with

dispatch.  Ranking legionnaires bought slaves or donkeys to carry their

packs of sixty to eighty five pounds (not including weapons).  The

majority of the rank and file, however, had to depend on impressed

civilians.  Whole villages sometimes fled to avoid being forced to carry

soldiers' baggage.

     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.  One does not "befriend" the

soldier, draw him aside and drive a knife into his ribs.  Jesus was

surely aware of the futility of armed insurrection against Roman

imperial might; he certainly did nothing to encourage those whose hatred

of Rome would soon explode into violence.

     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?  What

is he up to?  Normally, soldiers have to coerce people to carry their

packs, but this Jew does so cheerfully, and will not stop!  Is this a

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