Jesus is not here to make us safe. Jesus is here to make us free. We can’t have both at the same time because freedom and security are inversely proportional—as one goes up, the other goes down. We give up freedom to feel safe, and the freer we are, the more exposed and vulnerable. Without Jesus’ priorities deeply set, we willfully miss his message in our obsessive desire for security.
Jesus is always exposing and deconstructing the legal walls we build for security at the expense of the freedom to simply relate to each other in love. As barbaric as an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth may sound to us today, it still makes us feel safe because it promises that any breach in the walls of our safety will be repaid in kind, that mutually assured destruction will be a deterrent to those who would threaten our security.
But Jesus says not to rise up against an evil person. If someone strikes you on your right cheek, offer the left; if sued you for your shirt, give your coat as well; if required to go one mile, go two; give and lend to anyone asks. These directives make no common sense and assault our sense of fairness and security. But Jesus as poet is not speaking literally. He’s figuratively pulling us kicking and screaming from behind the imagined security of our walls. When put back into cultural context, he’s talking about maintaining a willingness to remain vulnerably free to give in our relationships regardless of the insult, infringement, obligation, or burden placed on us. In Jesus’ culture, the first mile was the mile of legal obligation, of coercion. There is no freedom in the first mile. Nothing of value happens in the first mile—only the security of obeying law. But the second mile releases obligation, and once free, we can choose to remain unfree, bound by law, or exercise the freedom to give what is no longer required. We can’t have both. We can either choose security or the breathless freedom to do the unthinkable: to love beyond law. It’s all about the second mile.