Lisa Nichols Hickman: Why the second mile matters

A Penn State alum and former Second Mile participant says the scandal was the last straw in his loss of faith in leaders and institutions, including the church. Should he?

Thomas L. Day is an Iraq war veteran, a Catholic, a Penn State graduate and participated in Jerry Sandusky’s Second Mile program. In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Day names the Penn State fiasco as the final straw to his loss of faith. Age 31, Day has lost faith in the church, the banking system, the court system, the military, the government and all of their public leaders.

Jesus, somewhere around age 30, had a crisis of faith as well. We see his op-ed in Matthew 5:38-42:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 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. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

In five short sentences during his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus names the institutions that have catastrophically failed: a religious system that teaches eye for an eye retaliation; covenantal relations that resort to a violent slap on the cheek; a banking system where collateral on a loan might ask the poorest of the poor to leave behind their outer cloak; a judicial system that drags into court those poor who cannot repay their indebtedness; a military system where a soldier could ask an individual to carry their seventy-pound pack; and the government of the Roman Empire that supported all these systems.

The end result of Jesus’ crisis of faith is a plea to the people of his day to engage in resisting evil by creative non-violence that holds the perpetrator of violence accountable to his or her actions: turn the other cheek, hand over the coat, walk the second mile. Jesus offers a “third way” in the face of violence when other options seem inconceivable. This is not passive self-sacrifice, but passionate service.

Day says the church has focused on gay marriage, over poverty and injustice. Christ calls people of faith to reconsider their tendency for revenge and retaliation (“You have heard it said…an eye for an eye”). Day laments the failures of leaders in the government and military. Jesus encourages resisters to walk the second mile to jeopardize the soldier’s accordance with military law. Day lambasts the leaders of banks and courts. Christ moves them to embarrassment by asking the poorest of the poor to strip their cloak and stand naked before the loan officer and the judge. Day understands that the leaders of his parent’s generation slapped in the face the opportunity of financial stability and respect overseas. Jesus still says “turn the other cheek.”

Day ends his article by saying he can no longer wait for his parent’s generation’s Joshua. I wonder if Jesus provides a way forward for Day and his generation. Jesus didn’t lose faith but thought of creative, non-violent ways to hold the institutions of his day accountable to the effect of their actions. Christ’s loss of faith in leadership, led to his exposition of new ways of leading by resisting evil, exercising creativity and creating accountability.

The irony of the very name “Second Mile” is that it provides a starting place for moving forward from the failure of the many institutions that faltered. In Jesus’ day, a bystander walking the second mile was an infraction of military code that could get the requesting soldier in trouble. In our day, walking the second mile may mean picking up the sins and shortcomings of one generation’s leaders and proceeding forward in a way that makes them reflect as they stand on the sidelines.

Don’t lose faith, Thomas L. Day. You will not walk this second mile alone. The backpacks we have been asked to carry may be heavy, filled with this generation’s burdens of debt and doubt, but many are ready to walk that second mile with you.

Lisa Nichols Hickman is pastor of New Wilmington Presbyterian Church in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.