THE EXTRA MILE
Now old habits die hard! Having been an executive in a public sector oil marketing company (PSOMC) for 13 years, (before coming into full-time spiritual service), even today I cannot restrain from reflecting on any extraordinary event involving the Indian oil sector. Recently, sitting beside and sympathising with an exasperated ex-colleague trying to pacify an irate customer, I couldn't help feeling that PSOMCs were dangerously going the "extra mile" to sell their branded "Extra-mile product"! Didn't understand? Let me explain.
All the Indian PSOMCs, being unable to raise their product prices, due to prevalent political compulsions despite continuous upward surge in oil import rates (a high percentage of fuel sold in our country is imported), are incurring inevitable heavy losses. While the private players like Reliance Petroleum, unable to cope with the mounting losses, have shut shop, the Government-backed PSOMCs simply cannot follow suit, for it would lead to total collapse of the Indian economy! So, in order to offset their heavy losses, at least to some extent, the PSOMCs are trying to sell more of their branded fuels (these fuels are different from ordinary petrol and diesel, in that they have special additives to "increase" mileage) like Extra-mile in which, they enjoy a greater profit margin. Only problem is that there is a severe public backlash, every time these in toto start substituting sale of the ordinary fuels with the costlier branded ones', as my poor ex-colleague and many manning responsible positions like him would testify. Now in these days of spiralling prices', who wants to strain his budget more? While on the subject of the branded fuels like Extra-mile, in their defence it has to be said, that though costly, these fuels contribute to better functioning of the engine, especially in an aging vehicle by cleaning the carbon deposits and restoring its mileage back to the original optimum level. But oh, the prohibitive cost, says the burdened Indian consumer and…. the debate could rage on endlessly. Time to switch tracks.
No Extra Cost
Well, Well… there is a mention of "Extra-mile" concept in the context of an effort in the Bible too. The only difference is that this unique "Extra-mile product" (actually a labour of love, for the Lord) comes or is at least expected to come to the world through any Christian AT NO EXTRA COST to its recipient! Now let me come to the spiritual realm. Culled from the Sermon on the Mount are these words of the Saviour: "If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles" (Matt. 5:41-NLV). Firstly, let's understand the contextual meaning of the words spoken by our Lord before coming to its application in His own life and in our lives too in this modern age.
The Jewish audience knew the context in which the Redeemer's words were spoken. During the Roman rule in the I century A.D., the Roman soldiers were empowered by the Roman law to even forcibly take the assistance of the ordinary citizens of the conquered nations to carry their military gear for what was then construed to be a mile.
Naturally, the citizens of that age resented in extending a helping hand to the soldiers of a foreign country, which had subjugated them.
However, Jesus wanted His followers to be different! As someone said, "Winners do not do different things, they do things differently.” Imagine the surprise of a Roman soldier, so accustomed to a typical bitter response from many a Jew, when he comes across someone willing to go an extra-mile with him carrying the heavy gear, with a cheerful spirit to boot! Nine times out of ten, wouldn't that prompt a natural query from the soldier, "Hey, what makes you so different"? Now wouldn't this spontaneous question open the doors for a Christian to share his testimony about following Jesus, with a surprised soldier, who would now be more than willing to lend an ear? Especially to one with such a helpful disposition? Remember, sometimes all it takes to win a soul, is a meaningful conversation, triggered by the curiosity of a truth-seeker. Ask a certain Phillip…(Acts 8:26-40)!
Fast-forward to 2008 and let's visit a modern day office. What do we see? A Christian consistently keeps going an extra-mile in serving his employers.’ He never keeps any pending work in his office, but completes them in time, even if it means putting in that much of an extra-effort. Now wouldn't this diligence attract the attention of his peers and superiors, prompting a query about the reasons behind his extra-ordinary commitment to work (Col 3:23)? Now wouldn't these queries, provide him with an opportunity to witness about his relationship with the Lord? Oh, there have been so many instances of faithful Christians at work, leading their colleagues to the saving knowledge of Christ!
Absolutely unique facet about our Lord's life and ministry was that He did not only practise what He preached, but He also first and foremost PRACTISED AND THEN ONLY PREACHED!
Do And Teach
Let's look at the relevant Scripture portion Acts 1:1 in support of this observation…'In my former book Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do & teach.’ Focus on the sequencing of the words; the word "DO" precedes word "TEACH," right? So, if He has preached, about going the extra-mile, it follows that, He would have gone the Extra-mile Himself. Where? Before answering this question, let it be said, our Lord's life can be divided into three phases'
In each phase of His life, we see Him, going the Extra-mile
For a moment, let's allow our imagination to carry us to an arid Judean desert land, where our Lord was, soon after His baptism (Matt. 4:1-2).
Permit me to bring Adam into the picture for a specific purpose. Has not our Lord been compared and contrasted with Adam (I Cor. 15:22,45/ Rom. 5:12-19)? One conspicuous similarity between them was in both their births no human plan or passion was involved. Well, both faced temptation, while one succumbed to it, the other triumphed over it. Now to reinforce the Extra-mile factor, I want to focus on the backdrop of both their temptations. One look at the settings and the stark difference in the circumstances stands pronounced! Adam faced the temptation in the most favourable of circumstances and fell… pleasant weather, plenty of food at hand and surrounded by friendly animals, but our Lord? He could have encountered the tempter at the beginning of the 40-day desert ordeal, but NO! In hot sweltering conditions, with physical strength all but ebbing away, surrounded by wild animals (Mk. 1:13), He took on the tempter and beat him squarely. Even in His preparation to the Ministry, He went the Extra-mile. Any doubt on Jesus first practising, and then only preaching, what He had practised first?
Friends, do you want the power, authority and conviction in your life and message, which Jesus possessed in plenty (Matt. 7:28-29)? Then practise a godly living first and then preach! Remember, when a heavenly commendation came His way "This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy" (Matt 3:17), Jesus had not PREACHED A SINGLE SERMON, but He was practising all that He would preach about later!
Let's pick up action from Mark 6:30 onwards leading to a climax in verse 44. We would observe that after a typically hectic day of preaching, teaching & healing, at a time when His disciples had come back from a strenuous tour, He simply wanted to "down the curtains" that evening. This can be discerned from His instructions to His disciples, "Let's get away from the crowds awhile & rest." But the question is, would the crowds permit Him that luxury? Or, would His loving heart permit Him that luxury, especially when so many spiritually starved people were clamouring to be near Him? So, as the needy public thronged Him, what did He do? Did He send a word through the disciples to the teeming crowds that He had closed the shop for the day, drained as He was after a hectic day? NO! FAR FROM IT! The Bible says very pertinently that out of a compassionate heart GOING THE EXTRA MILE "He taught them many things, they needed to know" & then comes the climax of feeding the thousands with meager resources.
While verses 35-44 talk about the mind-boggling miracle of feeding 5000 men with five loaves of bread & two fish, have we ever pondered for a moment at the origins of this awe-inspiring miracle, recorded in all the 4 gospels? Wasn't this oft-raved about miracle of feeding so many with so few bread & fish actually only a culmination of a chain of events triggered by something far more significant? Something so important, that despite it glaring at us, we miss it almost completely. "HAD NOT JESUS GONE THE EXTRA-MILE" in the first place that evening, exhausted as He was at the end of the day, could this miracle ever have taken place? The answer is obvious. It was His willingness to go that extra-mile that weary evening, which paved the way for this awesome miracle!
Now look at the turn of events from the disciples' perspective. Inspired by the example of their Master, exhausted as they were, they too went about the onerous task of serving food to the big multitude without an iota of bitterness. In a way, this entire episode is the microcosm of the Church History, isn't it? His disciples throughout the ages are diligently in the process of completing the work (reaching out to spiritually starved millions with the Living Bread), what their selfless Master had started!
In His passion too, our Lord went the extra-mile for there were no half-measures about His suffering. What about the 2 other thieves who were also crucified along with Jesus on that momentous day in the history of mankind? Were they also flogged before crucifixion? NO! As such, they did not endure the accentuating pain of having their battered back, rubbing against the wooden cross. Did thorny crowns adorn their brow, also? NO! Only the Son of God was drinking 'FULLY' from the cup of suffering, in order that God's name be fully glorified. I reiterate that Adam, the first man, had failed God when surrounded by most pleasant of circumstances, whereas the final Adam was scoring victory for God, in the most adverse of circumstances!!! It was as though in the great cosmic battle between God & Satan, the Almighty had challenged the deceiver that the final Adam, by virtue of his extra-ordinary levels of commitment to obedience would more than make-up for all the lapses of the first Adam, who had fallen when he had everything going for him.
Has it ever-occurred to us, why Jesus should lay-up His body on the altar of atonement at the age of only thirty-three? Could He not have died on the cross at 70 (the prescribed Biblical life-span for a normal man -Psalm 90:10a)? Very certainly, He wouldn't have sinned by then and become unfit to be a blemishless sacrifice? The answer is HE ALLOWED HIMSELF TO DIE AN EXCRUCIATING DEATH AT THE PRIME AGE OF 33, SO THAT A PERFECTLY HEALTHY BODY WOULD BE LAID AT THE ALTAR AND NOT A WITHERING ONE. ALSO SO THAT, HIS BODY WOULD BE FULLY ALIVE TO THE PAIN AND NOT BE NUMBED BY AGE! Oh boy, even in suffering our Lord went the Extra mile!!!
Let us not lose the privilege of going the "extra-mile" for Him in several areas of our spiritual life even at a time when our rational intellect wills us to the contrary. Take the case of dealing with a constant offender, be it in family circles or elsewhere. Jesus would always want us to go the extra-mile in giving this offender one more chance with a hope of winning his soul. If this constant offender is a Christian, we going the extra-mile might help him absorb lessons on patience from us, helping him to mature. Are there not enough examples in this world of constantly forgiving Christians winning souls for the Lord by virtue of their forgiving disposition? Would that have been possible, but for they going the "extra-mile" in this sphere of forgiveness? Or, take the issue of generosity. How often the Lord's spirit gently challenges to stretch our financial resources to the limit when it comes to helping a friend in financial need. Do we cheerfully go the extra-mile like that much commended poor widow giving "her all" to the temple (Lk. 21:1-4) or do we go about our Christian charity with a grudging heart?
The 'extra-mile' principle can be applied to matters of personal integrity also (saying a firm "NO" to bribes of any kind), besides several other areas of Christian life (e.g.… taking up personal evangelism or helping Christian missionaries financially). One small act of going the extra-mile may actually trigger a chain reaction with we ending up doing something memorable of lasting value to the Lord. Had Phillip complained about walking beside a chariot on a hot afternoon in the desert road of all roads, would there be a Church in Ethiopia today?
I can almost see our Lord smiling at us & saying, "My true disciples through the ages have been going the extra-mile in their service to Me in the same way I went the "extra mile" for My Father's glory - wouldn't you do the same for Me? " Well, the choice as always is ours!!!