Readings: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Psalm 98; Matthew 5:38-42
The 'second mile' is clearly recognised in Christian theology: Jesus is the one to speak of it, in today's passage from the Sermon on the Mount. Biblical critics might be quick to explain away these outrageous demands as hyperbolic language, the graphic speech of one who was, after all, a poet. They are not strictly 'laws' that Christians must obey - so the critic will continue. They are attempts to communicate the spirit of Jesus' own approach to people - a prodigal generosity, whose virtue lies in its freedom, precisely in the fact that it is not prescribed but is done out of love.
We do not depend on this one scripture text however to ground a 'theology of the second mile'. This is part not just of our Christian knowledge, of the tradition of what Jesus said, but is also part of our talk about God Himself, part of our theology in the deepest and simplest meaning of the word: discourse about God. Our God is a God who is always ready to walk a second mile with us.
The God we have come to know in Jesus Christ is, in one sense, an irrational lover. Anselm (in Cur Deus Homo II.13) speaks of the 'supreme wisdom' of the Incarnation, not just a reckless love. He is the God of the Old Testament, of course, Creator and Redeemer of Israel. He drove Adam and Eve out of Eden but himself made clothes for them before they left (Genesis 3:21). He punished Cain for his crime against his brother but marked him to protect him from being murdered in his turn (Genesis 4:15). The earth became so corrupt that God decided to annihilate it. Yet again he cannot finally desert man, for he calls Noah and saves him. He tells Noah what to do to escape the flood and when the time comes it is God himself who closes the door of the ark behind Noah and his family (Genesis 7:16).
When sin increased on the earth again God scattered the peoples of the world and separated them from each other. For the first time people spoke different languages. It is a way of explaining the emergence of different cultures, different mentalities, different traditions. It is a way of explaining the beginning of large scale mistrust, ignorance, fear, rivalry, violence. Yet it was precisely at this moment of deepest gloom, when the melting-pot of all the races of humankind emerged, that the Lord said to Abram, 'leave your country, your family and your father's house for the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you, and make your name great ... and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves' (Genesis 12:1-3).
This is the God of Israel. This is what He is like. He set in motion a great plan to win again the love of human beings. He called His special people out of slavery into a land of their own. He nurtured their life, protected them and made sure that they were safe to worship Him. Yet they sinned and turned from Him. They turned to gods with whom they could live in greater comfort. These were gods who would keep their covenants.
Their own God, Yahweh, did not keep His covenant. His love for His people prevented Him from implementing the curses which the covenant obliged Him to carry out in the event of their infidelity. He never did, although He was sorely tried. And when it seemed that His rejection of His people was total, and final, and they mournfully chanted by the waters of Babylon, He gave in again and made this exile the occasion for a new exodus, a new covenant, a fresh beginning for this promiscuous bride (Hosea, Ezekiel).
The story went on as before. The story goes on as before. God came again to a new beginning, a covenant which would this time be final because sealed in the blood of His Only Son - and what else is left? This was the fulness of God's time. It did not matter that men were still sinners - precisely in this was the love of God clearest, that it was while we were sinners that God sent His Only Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away. This was the 'second mile', the bit He did not really have to do - in fact there was none of it that God 'had to do', right back to the first stirrings of human life under the breath of God's mothering Spirit. John the Theologian draws the conclusion from God's 'second mile' - if God so loves us, we also ought to be loving one another in this way.