Peyton Manning, the quarterback for the Denver Broncos, has become notorious for shouting "Omaha" just before the play is about to start. "Omaha" is his audible call for a sudden change in plans. Whatever play he or the coach may have called, now he is deciding to do something new and different.
"You have heard it said... but I say to you" is the rhetorical style of this section of Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. These "antitheses" of Jesus change, reverse, or radicalize the pre-existing game plan in the world view of his audience. Whatever the tradition was, whatever the strategy had been, Jesus is now calling an audible.
Whatever operating principles had been assumed in the minds of his audience—such as an "eye for an eye"—is now called into question. In contrast to their initial inclinations, Jesus calls upon them to break the common cycles of retaliation. "To go the extra mile" is one of those phrases that has become embedded in the English language and used even by people who have no idea of this original context. The original setting imagined a Roman soldier's right to forcibly enlist a person to serve as a "pack horse" for a distance. Jesus subverts the Roman law with a proposal that would put the oppressor in debt to the oppressed.
The Sermon on the Mount begins in chapter five with "beatitudes" and a different vision of what a blessing is. It will end in chapter seven with the astonishment of the crowds at one who teaches with authority, and not as the scribes. In Jesus' words "But I tell you" we see the transforming power of a coming kingdom beginning to work itself into our world.
O God of Promise, you sent your Son to open us to a different kind of power. Help us to know the blessing of "going the extra mile" in a world that would want us to live only according to "an eye for an eye." Amen.
Matthew 5:38-48 (NRSV)
38 "You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;
40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;
41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.
42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43 "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.