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EBS66: The Miracle of the Second Mile

Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #66

Delivered by Eric Butterworth on September 3, 1975

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Some feel that many of the ideals among the teachings of Jesus are simply not common sense. An example is the verse, “And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two.” It is felt that if you go around doing more than you are paid to do, people will take advantage of you and will not respect you. Doing more than you are supposed to do is, they will be glad to tell you, just not common sense. They are right, of course, this course of action is not common sense, it is rather uncommon sense, and only by practicing this uncommon sense can we experience the real depths of life.

The admonition to go the second mile refers to the right the Roman soldiers were accorded in Jesus’ time to compel subject peoples to carry their burdens for one mile; it was one of the many effects of Roman despotism. Jesus was showing his followers an uncommon method of dealing with this particular type of exploitation; He was suggesting that they could break the bonds of enslavement by doing what was demanded of them as if they really relished it.

I once dined in a restaurant which had a strict rule for its waitresses—they had to smile at every customer, and they would be summarily discharged for failing to do so. It was rather amusing to watch the forced, resentful smiles appear on the waitress’ face, and one could only feel sorry for them. But one girl stood out. She smiled like the rest, however she kept on smiling, actually seeming to enjoy it. She really beamed out joy. I commented to her on her unusual pleasantness and she confessed that at first she had resented the policy and almost quit the job; then she began to realize that all the smiles except the first were her own, and she felt for herself the joy and reward of spreading happiness. Her job became for her a far more enjoyable experience because she went the second mile.

Jesus knew full well that when you do just what is required of you and no more, you are a slave. This is true whether you are meeting the demands of an employer or obeying the laws of the land. When you travel only the first mile, you get a paycheck, a routine thank-you, and a continuing hum-drum existence. Certainly, you don’t have to do any more than this, but stopping with the obligatory performance leaves you pinioned down with tight knots of your own making. You can be freed, untied, by going the second mile, by giving that something extra to your work, and by reaching out to be more thoughtful and helpful and giving in your relationships. Then, suddenly, life will take on new meaning and added dimension. On the second mile happiness will turn up, as will true friends, real satisfaction in living, and, perhaps, a larger figure on your paycheck.

The insistence on doing one’s share (no less but certainly no more) is a common handicap to effective living. It is an accepted part of our culture to do “our bit” and we resent deeply any suggestion that we have failed in this. The function of this is that you do me a favor, I do you a favor; you do me a bad turn, I will get you somehow; I accept an invitation to your house, I must invite you back. This desire to get even and remain even has become a fundamental attitude...but do you see how selfish it can become?

The effect of this consciousness is that you don’t really want the other person to have the reward and joy of giving; you want your share in it. You do not want to be under obligation to someone else so you try to get even as soon as possible and give something back. In this context, the second mile is being a gracious receiver, permitting you to give to me without my trying to get even. Say and think, “I rejoice in your giving and in the blessing you will get from it; I am free to enjoy your gift without the bondage of obligation.”

Too often, the second mile is not practiced. You give me a job, I give you service. You pay me for what I am to do, and I do my part by completing what you have paid me to do. This exchange makes invariably for hum-drum living. Work should be an opportunity to grow, an experience of creative expression. To keep it down to the level of exactly even exchange means that no-one will realize a blessing from it.

“Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth”, Jesus advised; and this means for us not to think of what we are to receive while we are in the act of giving. Give for the simple joy of giving, and by spiritual law the receiving end will take care of itself.

Life is a good deal more than give and take. Contributing our part is at best merely a return to the stream of life what we have taken out. We take a share, we give a share in return; nothing has really been taken away or added; the balance remains the same. But is this enough? What is really needed for fully effective living is a change in the balance, putting a little more in that we take out, altering the static condition that results from the 50-50 concept, and thinking rather in terms of 51-49. Two children on a see-saw are, without knowing it, using the philosophy of going the second mile in order to make their plaything work. If they both did only their share, and no more, there would be no motion and no fun. Each must give a push so that the other can enjoy the ride, and then the roles change with each movement.

We need to all take the uncommon approach to life, to realize that man is an expression of an infinite process, and that his true business is the express business. Life is just one great big opportunity for you to give yourself away. What success and happiness any of us achieves comes through giving; and this goes not only for your work but also for all your relationships. Someone has said that a little too much is just enough. This is sometimes called teamwork or group effort, but whatever it is called, giving and doing just a little bit more than is absolutely required is the way to personal satisfaction. He who receives only a paycheck in satisfaction for his work is underpaid.

One can suffer lovelessness and loneliness because of a habit pattern of always keeping things exactly even. One woman, feeling that she had several reasons to terminate her marriage, consulted her lawyer about getting a divorce. He listened patiently and understandingly to her long list, then suggested that before she take any action she try one thing—spend three months showering her husband with extra attention. Surprised and somewhat confused, she nevertheless agreed to do this. As you may have guessed, she never returned to the office. When the lawyer met her on the street many months later she told of abandoning all notions of leaving her husband. She said that he would be quite helpless without her and that she really loved him all the while. After all the years of going only the compulsory first mile, her marriage had become a happy one.

There is a poem I cherish which applies to this lesson:

I walked a mile along life’s way With someone I knew, the other day.
The path was dreary and rough and steep;
Thorns by the way, crevices deep.
For I walked with him against my will.
And grudged the time I could spare so ill.
(For I had other places to go,
I had other things to do:
I had books to read, a garden to weed,
A thousand things which cried a need;
I was busy, and hurried too.)
Then I went another mile, for she,
I somehow felt had need of me;
And the path grew smoother, less steep the hill For now I walked of my own free will.
Thank God I walked that second mile.
For I learned to love my friend the while.

© 1975, by Eric Butterworth

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