by Tad Lindley
The fact that we were discussing it on a ship floating off the coast of Antarctica last week probably makes it the most famous traffic jam in the history of the world. In fact, it’s quite possible that you were a part of it and remember it yourself.
I was eating dinner with a couple while on a trip to the birthplace of icebergs. Knowing I live in Alaska, the wife began to tell me about this horrible traffic jam about four or five years back. She began, “You know that highway that curves around the ocean, it’s very close to Anchorage?”
“Yes, the Sterling Highway…”
“Well we were in Seward and we had a plane flight out of Anchorage…” And she went on to describe how there had been a horrible accident on the highway to Anchorage and some people had died and how the traffic was stopped for six hours. Realizing they would miss their flight if extreme measures weren’t taken, their driver turned around and went to the nearest flag stop on the Alaska Rail Road. The train stopped, they got on, and they made their flight. What neither they nor I realized at the time is that as the train passed tens of miles of traffic jam, one of the families stuck in the northbound lane was mine.
It was so bad, that as I looked across Turnagain Arm toward Girdwood and on to Anchorage, it looked as if there was snow along the base of the mountains. For hours I looked across and squinting I could tell that the “snow” was actually southbound RVs stuck in traffic.
Blessed to be in Bethel
Those of us who live in Bethel or the surrounding villages are blessed. In Bethel heavy traffic is 20 cars stopped behind the school bus, but many places in the world there are simply too many cars for the roads. I have seen up to 12 lanes on one highway in California, and the traffic is still so heavy that it is stop and go. Really where we live, there is no such thing as traffic jams. Sometimes I go for 150 miles by snow machine, and may see only a few other people. No, we are blessed to not know traffic jams.
The second mile
Perhaps you have heard the expression, “Go the extra mile.” If you use that phrase, be very careful, it might be offensive to Christophobic people. You see, when you tell someone to, “Go the extra mile,” you are telling them to be obedient to Jesus. When you describe someone by saying, “She always goes the extra mile,” you are praising their adherence to the teachings of the Lord. You see, the concept of the second mile comes straight from the mouth of God. In Matthew 5:41 Jesus told the people, And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two (NKJV).
The first mile
Before we deal more with the second mile, let me speak to a question that has no doubt been nagging at you since you began to read this, namely, “What about the first mile?” The first mile is a reference to a common practice in the days of the Roman Empire, and so everyone that Jesus was talking to already knew what the first mile was. In those days, a Roman soldier could ask a civilian on the road to carry the soldier’s pack for him and the civilian had to do it at least for a mile. This is why some Bible translations read like this: If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles (NLT).
No traffic jams on the second mile
By introducing the concept of the second mile, Jesus was raising the standard for our behavior. He knew that everyone would have carried the soldier’s pack for the first mile, they had to, it was the law. Jesus also knew how rare it is for someone to go above and beyond a duty that inconveniences them, and so (paraphrasing his message) he told them, “Look guys, I’m not seeing enough traffic on the second mile, you’re only doing the minimum of what is asked, and then you quit.” If we love God and are striving to be obedient to him, then we need to go the second mile.
Roadmap to the second mile
“I’m not going to go the extra mile for them, they don’t deserve it!” Have you ever thought like that about someone? Of course they don’t deserve it. Jesus chose this example specifically because Roman soldiers did not deserve it. They were an occupying army in the land of Israel. They had taken sovereignty away from the Jewish people. And here Jesus is telling the people to help them. I hope not, but maybe you work for a jerk, or maybe somebody dogged you on social media. God’s call is for us to seek to bless them, to do what we can to make things easier for them whether or not they deserve it. You see the second mile is not about them, it is about Him. Get on the second mile, there are no traffic jams there.
Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, Alaska.