HOMILY WEEK 11 01 – Year I
Going the Extra Mile
(2 Cor 6:1-10; Ps 98; Mt 5:38-42)
What do the readings today and the 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous have in common?
The answer in one word is “service” although expressed differently. For Jesus in the gospel, it is “going a second mile” while for St. Paul in the first reading it is “working with God” leading to salvation. The anniversary medallion of A.A. has the words Recovery, Unity and Service written on it. Recovery comes first, but one does not recover alone. And the best way to stay sober is to help another addicted person.
It is possible that the saying “going an extra mile” comes from the gospel passage today. Apparently, in biblical times, Persian or Roman messengers could legally be compelled into service without pay to help bring dispatches from the imperial court to distant provinces. Needless to say, no one wanted that job, and complaints flowing from anyone forced into this service were understandable.
But Jesus wants us to take a different attitude. Not only should we avoid complaining, we should also be willing to go twice as long as expected – to be generous and serve even beyond what seems reasonable.
That, of course, is far easier said than done. Our natural tendency is to either avoid or resent demands on our time and energy, as most of us are already busy enough and perhaps even over taxed in that area. We sense we should be more willing, but it’s often a struggle.
St. Paul is a wonderful example of Christian service. In his letter to the Corinthians, he calls it working together with God, accepting the grace of God, and even identifying service with the “day of salvation.” He goes on to list all the ways that he himself suffered for the sake of the gospel with great endurance (afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights and hunger) to name a few. With obvious joy at being able to serve God, he describes himself as dying yet alive, punished but not killed, sorrowful yet always rejoicing, poor yet rich, having nothing yet possessing everything. What a powerful example of Christian service for the sake of the gospel!
Jesus is our best example of going the extra mile. He emptied himself to take on our humanity and redeem our sinful humanity. He gave his life away in selfless healing ministry. He suffered silently and held nothing back when he laid down his life for us. Even now, he never tires, as Pope Francis so often teaches, to forgive us and respond to our prayers. In a word, Jesus accepts us as we are but believes in who we can become.
Jesus prefaces his teaching on service by urging us to go far beyond the Old Testament teaching of “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Actually, that teaching was an attempt to limit the amount of violence – one should not retaliate to a greater extent than what was done to us. Jesus takes us into a whole new realm with his teaching to turn the other cheek and go the second mile.
|If this teaching would be lived out in our world today, all wars would stop and the reign of God would flourish. It is interesting that the effects of aggression are immediately visible, but the effects of goodness and gentleness are often so subtle that they cannot be easily tracked. This does not mean that they are less effective. When you consider the capacity for evil that we all have in us, it is amazing that there is so much goodness in the world. When you are depressed by the evening news, don’t forget to think of the millions of people who are notinvolved in crime, or in seeking power, or becoming obscenely wealthy.
There is a vast capital of goodness in the human race, and the faith of countless Christians through the ages has contributed immeasurably to it. Armies march under flags, but Christians are at their best when they are working quietly and unnoticed. There is often a lot of pressure in the Church to wave flags, like an army, but remember the images of the Kingdom of God that Jesus used: seed in the ground, salt in the food, yeast in the batch. “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Mt 6:3).
Justin, a recovering alcoholic and member of A.A., called recently to request help in providing Bert, just released from prison, with clothes and transportation to a treatment centre for his addiction. With the help of the St. Vincent de Paul and Marian Centres, and a former prison chaplain, he was able to outfit Bert with shorts, socks, shoes and pants. Then because of his connections, Justin was able to borrow a vehicle and take Bert to a treatment centre in Calgary within 72 hours, after putting him up in his own suite for two days. That certainly is going the extra mile! When I commended him on this altruistic activity, he simply replied that is what one does in the program.
Actually, Bert could be considered a typical candidate for the fledgling St. Dismas House Society being formed at the moment, and founded by Justin, a former inmate himself. The idea is to provide inmates being released from prison a safe place, assistance and program for them until they are accepted into a rehabilitation centre. Thanks to many generous donors, helpful persons and a very active board, this project was almost ready to open its doors, but civic and legal complications have led to an unfortunate delay. There are many people in the Edmonton area eager for that opening day.
The Eucharist is itself a living out of that slogan of A.A. – Recovery, Unity and Service. We are all in a process of recovery and healing. We gather together to hear the Word of God and support one another. And transformed by the communion we receive into the Body of Christ, we are mandated to go out and live the Eucharist in Christian service.
So let us take seriously the words of St. Paul, work together with God, rejoice in our salvation, and always with Jesus be ready to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile in service of all our brothers and sisters.