By Allen White
And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Matthew 5:40-41
Often we refer to generous people as those who are willing to give you the shirt off of their backs. These are the folks who will do anything for you and are willing to help even to their own detriment. But, what if the shirt wasn’t a gift? What if it became an obligation? Would they feel just as generous?
In both verses here, Jesus starts with an obligation, then reveals an opportunity for generosity. If someone sues you and wins, give them more than what is required. If a soldier forces you to carry his load for one mile, then double up your efforts and go for two miles. (I wrote about the Extra Mile here).
Why? Why give people who are demanding of us more than they deserve? We would prefer to give them nothing. It’s painful enough to give what they require. To go beyond that just might be unthinkable.
Jesus is challenging us to not only give what is required, but also to give the unexpected. Not just on designated days when we all get together to serve the community, but every day. The problem is that most of us don’t have time to go out of our way to help.
I was headed to church one Sunday morning. I had left early and was hoping to get a project done before the 9 am service. I pulled up to an intersection and stopped at the light. I looked across the intersection to discover that the driver in the turn lane had passed out.
The light changed. I made my turn. Then, I thought, “I probably should call 9-1-1”--so much for my lead time on the project. I called and told the dispatcher the location. The dispatcher told me that help was on the way. I thought, “That’s great. Mission accomplished.”
Then, the dispatcher said, “Please hold the line. I’m connecting you with EMS.” Once EMS was on the line, he asked, “Is the person breathing?”
Is the person breathing? I hadn’t even gotten out of my car. They wanted me to do something? I did do something. I called, didn’t I? At that point images of the priest and the Levite from the parable of the Good Samaritan came to mind.
I got out of the car and walked over to the still running car of the incapacitated driver not knowing what to expect. I was relieved to discover that the car was in park rather than drive. Music was blaring. I knocked on the window. No response. But, his chest was moving. About that time another motorist stopped.
I reported to EMS what I had discovered. The other motorist got out of his car and recognized the incapacitated driver. This was a regular customer at the bar he worked at.
The man walked around the car, opened the door, and shook the man awake. About that time, we could hear a siren. The now awake driver sprung into action, put on the gas, and got out of there like a bat out of you-know-where. This had gone from a medical emergency to a DUI with three sheriff’s deputies in pursuit.
No lives were saved. Potentially lives were now in danger of a drunk driver. My lead time was wasted. But, I had done the right thing – albeit reluctantly—but the right thing.
That situation made me think about how I scheduled my life. If someone really had a problem, would I have time to help them? Did I need to know a few more things like CPR or First Aid in case of emergency? Could I make time to do that? But, the bigger question really has to do with margin.
Most of us live such busy, stress-filled lives that not only do we lack the time to help, we often lack the ability to give. We’re given out. There’s nothing left. We hear of a problem, and we call the church, the school, or the authorities. When they ask how we can help, we think, “I just did help. I called you.”
How has God equipped you to help others? What burden is being required of you? Maybe the solution is to drown the feelings of resentment with generosity. At this point you may argue, “But, you don’t know what I’m dealing with.” And, you’re right. I don’t know. But, Jesus does, and He will give you all of the power you need.