Some eighteen or nineteen hundred years ago, the early Church bishop and historian, Tertulian in North Africa described how easy it was for people in general to recognize and distinguish Christians, believers in Christ, even as they walked on the street and went about their daily business. It appears that their inner conviction, their faith in soul even motivated the way they walked, deported themselves physically with an inner motivation that all is well in their lives because Christ is their security as Saviour and Redeemer.
Can this be said with absolute certainty today? How do we act among our friends and intimates? Does our family see in our life the fact that we truly, wholly belong to Christ? Are we distinctive and unique as Christians? Is our activity above and beyond what is observed among those who are not Orthodox? Or do those who know us see that sometime and some place, some where we might have been baptized, almost coincidentally or even accidentally, but since then, just as easily, we took off that garment that is Christ and are no longer committed totally to him?
Our Lord identifies us and calls us his followers, "...the light of the world." In other words, a most important part of our spiritual vocation in soul and body is to lead people out of the darkness they flounder in by witnessing for them the bright light of the Lord and his values for mankind. People lost in physical darkness know what they need and they know what to call it and how to identify it. They are looking for light to brighten their path. This does not guarantee, though, that they know how to secure it. Nor does it mean that they can describe it to someone else who has lost it in the darkness surrounding them. They will, however recognize the light of the Lord as soon as it brightens and lightens their own burdens in life. Until they see the light, through they will only have a vague impression of what it is. So it is with man lost in the abject darkness of sin.
Yet they have an idea of what they need. They are looking for satisfaction, fulfillment from the contradictory puzzles of life. They have chosen wrong paths and pursue vague values which lead no where except to more and more confusion and emptiness. Perhaps they cannot describe what their own lives lack. A life devoted to Christ, however, lived without pretense, without disabling fears, without an unquenchable thirst for fulfillment. This is the what they desires; this is what they want, a surety, a conviction which no one else can provide except our Saviour.
So when we as faithful followers of the Lord are seen living that kind of life, they will want to know how they can share in its riches to experience the surety we possess. But the question we must ask ourselves first is: "Are we providing the kind of encouraging, nurturing and affirming example the Lord expects of us to share with others? Literally, can a non-believer notice in us the strength of the Lord that manifests itself because we allow ourselves to be used by the Holy Spirit as a compelling example to be emulated?
We have heard the worn out objective truth: "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But what I say to you is offer no resistance to injury. When a person strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other. If anyone wants to go to judgment with you over your shirt, hand him your coat as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him two miles. Give to man who begs from you. Do not turn your back on the borrower" Luke 27 - 29.
Our Lord insists that those who identify themselves through his name as Christians, do more than is expected of us. We are to be overachievers and overdoers in virtue. If the world by its values and expectations demands one shirt, offer even more. If we are to go one mile with some one, we should be eager to travel two miles. Fundamentally, this is what distinguishes us from pagans and non-Christians, even from others who profess to be followers of Christ in other persuasions. There is never enough we can do for our Saviour. There can never be a time when we can do more for our God than He does for us. Those who profess being followers of the Lord must do more than is expected of them. We firm up our devotion to the Lord by being second mile Christians. If we are seduced by the concept that we should only do what is minimally required by Christ, we thereby lose the cherished name of Christ. Minimalism means only doing the absolute needed minimal requirement, barely squeaking under the door of salvation before it is closed in our face. We must be second mile Christians. We must as a faith community be a second-mile parish! When we leave to others the caring and serving that it is our privilege to contribute to, we submit and are satisfied with minimalism.
Then we do not even walk the first mile the world would like to see in us, never mind the second mile the Lord expects! People do not expect the second mile, but the Lord does. That is what make us different, distinctive people, compelling people. Minimalism tempts all people and they easily succumb to it. Daily we give thanks to our God that we do have those among us who are second-mile people. Minimalism is standing by and watching while others care and exert themselves, sometimes beyond their own ability, but depend on the strength of the Lord to makeup what is lacking in them. St. Paul teaches us "I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me." Minimalism looks for excuses to holy day attendance at worship as if it were some sort of extra credit or an appendage to faith commitment. Minimalism does not see the various services provided in the parish as additional much-needed blessings for the salvation of our soul, a time and period of enrichment and spiritual bonus.
Souls who are minimalists will reap; the minimal reward which certainly is not the fullness of heaven which our Lord intended. Anything less than the fullness of heaven is minimalism. Belonging to Christ is giving and investing our all, our complete selves in surrendering our will to his wisdom. Without that kind of devotion, without that kind of caring, with that kind of sharing of our time, our treasure and our talents, we have no salvation. If Christ had just gone so far and no further, salvation would never have occurred for us. If Christ just went the first mile of the passion, but did not ascend the cross, there would be no redemption.
St. Paul always insisted to his parishioners who had some misconceptions about the salvation of their soul as some present day so-called believers do, that they could very easily accommodate the Saviour in a minimal way and He will be satisfied. He said we are not bound by the law; we are above the law. What He means is that in responding to his first shown love, we do far more than the law requires, we walk the second mile, we turn the other cheek and we give up our coats as well as our shirts gladly for his sake. We are not preoccupied with what the law requires because we live above it, beyond it; we are no longer bound by the philosophy of the present world because we live in the unlimited love of eternity.
Once again, today is issued the invitation: "Come to me all that are troubled and heavyladen and I will give you rest." In coming to Christ, in seeing and recognizing Christ as the beginning and end of every endeavor in life, in seeing and recognizing his grace in our lives, we are then inspired and gifted to care and to serve, to share and invest ourselves and our time and our talents and our treasure for his sake, with others in the world.
Today the fundamental, basic and elementary requirement is spelled out for us distinctively: "Do to others what you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, how can you claim any credit? Sinners do as much. If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what merit is there in it for you? Even sinners lend to sinners, because they expect to be repaid in full" Luke 6: 31 - 34.