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The Christian Overplus

The Christian Overplus

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And whosoever shall compel thee to go one
mile, go with him two. — Matthew 5. 41 .

And whosoever shall compel thee to go one
mile, go with him two. — Matthew 5. 41 .

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Nov 19, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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THE CHRISTIA OVERPLUS JOSEPH M. M. GRAY And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. — Matthew 5. 41 . I have often wondered in recent months what Theodore Roosevelt thought about these words; they have the flavor of what, in his less reticent moods, he would have called the mollycoddle ideal. That is, they have that flavor if you take them literally. Of course, when I speak in that fashion, I open the door to a host of eager criticisms. Did not Jesus know just what he was talking about? Doesn't he always mean what he says? o one has any right to take the plain words of Christ and read into them anything except what they say. All. of that is true enough. Jesus undoubtedly knew what he was talking about; but that is not to say that we always know what he was talking about, and we shall never know all that he meant until we do know what he was talking about when he meant it. These words are plain enough; but plain words sometimes have the profoundest meaning. They are often like some of the indefinite things Longfellow men- tions in his Psalm of Life — they are not what they seem. You can take these words with absolute literalness, and there are some minds that can never do anything else with them, 251 252 THE COTEMPORARY CHRIST
but what a bog that will get us into! If these words are to be taken literally, on their face value, and with no exploration into their fundamental context and spirit, then they may mean that if a jitney carries us a mile beyond our corner we are to go with it a mile more; if a smooth bore buttonholes us for a block while he tells us his opinion of the League of ations, we are to go cheerfully on to martyrdom for another block; if — but you could spend many a melancholy hour in fulfilling the literal re- quirements of this singular text. Evidently, the precisely literal interpreta- tion will not do. This sentence does not con- form to our rules of English grammar, and it conforms less to our modern conduct of life. What does it mean? To answer that question will take you back into an ancient past. Cyrus the Great was responsible for these words. He did not know it, but he thrust his hand far down the five hundred years that were to stretch between himself and Jesus, and he it was who unknowingly put these words upon the Galilean's lips, for Cyrus developed a postal system, and made his Persian post carriers very important people. There were no rail- roads, nor telegraphs, nor telephones; but there were good roads, and his Persian carriers with their dispatches, of importance to the imperial THE CHRISTIA OVERPLUS 253 business or the imperial arms, ran, rode fast horses, drove careening carriages, urged swift camels, got to where they were going in the quickest way they could; and in order that no
accidents or obstacles or obstinacy should im- pede the delivery of their mail, they were em- powered by the empire to seize any man, animal, wagon, anyone and anything, and press it immediately into the service to expedite what we would call the national post. Came Rome, at last, and swept over the Persian empire, and from there, as from else- where, Rome adopted whatever good she found in other people's organized government, religion, and life; and so the practice of impressment, concerning which far down the centuries the young American republic and England were to have some controversy, the custom of com- pelling anyone into the service of the empire, became part of the Roman system. So it was that as Saint Mark tells the tale, the Roman soldiers on the way to the crucifixion of Jesus, "compel one passing by, Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, . . . that he might bear his cross." It was this old Persian-Roman custom of im- pressment that Jesus had in mind when he spoke these words of the text; and whatever may be your individual views of pacificism and 254 THE COTEMPORARY CHRIST nonresistance, and however you may have thought the ew Testament supported you, that was not in the thought of Jesus at this time. This isn't as mollycoddle as it looks. This is bigger business than nonresistance; for frankly, nonresistance is about the easiest thing in the world. It was much easier to go to prison in America than to go to the firing line

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