At first Jesus went for the laugh.
The Roman Army’s “Field Manual” said that a Legionnaire in occupied territory could force a local to carry his pack 1,000 paces — a mile; one step farther and the soldier was subject to the lash.
Jesus’ audience chuckled at the thought of a soldier begging them to, “Give back my pack, pleeease!” when they insisted on carrying it that second mile.
On a roll, Jesus talks about a lawsuit where the plaintiff wins his opponent’s outer garment. “Here, take my underwear, too.” And the defendant is left standing naked – a shame to them both, but a humorous picture.
The third story was not so funny. What Jesus describes is the dismissive, back-handed slap one would give a slave or other inferior person. To “turn the other cheek” would require the aggressor to give the open-handed slap one would only give to an intimate, an equal.
The shock of that slap goes to both parties.
It appears that Jesus’ point was for us to stick with each other, no matter how uncomfortable, even ludicrous it is, until something “real” happens.
When we are dismissed by someone, keep coming back until we are treated as an equal. If we dismiss someone, perhaps we should think twice about our abuse of her or him, especially if s/he doesn’t kowtow to us.
(Jesus was endorsing persistence, not becoming a “doormat”. Anyone experiencing actual abuse should get safe and get help. One cannot begin to turn the other cheek until he or she has a sense of his or her own equality and worth.)
Because shame has been so misused in our day as a way we use to control others psychologically, it’s lost its proper use by God as a mechanism built into us to recognize when we should stop and think about what we’re doing – like depriving people of sustenance and protection.
And even if the soldier takes his pack back, if we continue walking an extra mile with that despised individual, about whatever might we talk? Hmmm.
Pastor Doug Campbell is a retired Lutheran pastor and a member of Faith, Wilmington. He currently is supplying pulpits in the Southern Ohio Synod. He was formerly Deputy Wing Chaplain for the Civil Air Patrol in Ohio. Before seminary, he worked for the Chillicothe Gazette, and as the editor of the Chanute AFB newspaper in Rantoul, Ill.