What does the word compel mean in Matthew 5:41?

 and if someone in authority compels you into service for a mile, go with him two miles. – Mat.5:41

aggaros

In origin the word is Persian ; it comes from the noun “aggaros”, which means a ‘courier’; it became naturalized into Greek ,just as the Italian word “estafette” has been to some extent naturalized into English with the same sense of a ‘military courier’ or an ‘express messenger’.

persian mail courier
Persian mail courier

The Persians had a remarkably efficient courier system,like an express post.Herodotus has a description of it (Herodotus 8:98).’Nothing travels as fast as these Persian messengers.The entire plan is a Persian invention ;and this is the method of it.Along the whole line of the road there are men (they say)stationed with horses ,in number equal to the number of days which the journey takes,allowing a man and a horse to each day ;and these men will not be hindered from accomplishing their best speed the distance which they have to go ,either by snow, or rain, or heat, or by the darkness of the night .The first rider delivers his despatch to the second,and the second passes it to the third;and so it borne from hand to hand along the whole line,light the light in the torch race…The Persians give the riding post in this manner the name aggareion.’

Now it was the law that anyone could be compelled to provide a horse or to act as guide to keep this service going.And therefore “aggareuein” came to mean ‘forcibly to impress some one to service’, to compel him to serve whether he liked it or not.In an occupied country that was a grave and serious thing. Anyone could be impressed to carry the baggage of the army for a certain distance; anyone could be compelled to perform any service that the occupiers chose to lay upon him. That is what happened to Simon of Cyrene when he was compelled to carry Jesus’ torture stake (Matt.27:32, Mark 15:21).

jesus preaching
Sermon of the Mount

This business of impressment was one of the bitterest and most constant humiliations that subject nations had to endure.How humiliating this could be, and how this aggareia was abused can be seen in the regulations that governments had to make to curb the exercise of it . For example , the Roman prefect of Egypt, admitted that soldiers were using this practise for their own private benefit. In other words in the Roman world of 1st century Palestine ,the Romans used “aggareia” for both things and people,not only for the public and armies services ,but for their private convenience and profit.

Now it is even more clearer what Jesus meant when he quoted these words on his Sermon of the Mount  if someone in authority compels you into service for a mile, go with him two miles”( Mat.5:41).He is saying :’If someone exacts from you the most distasteful and humiliating service, if someone compels you to do something that invades your rights and that he has no right to ask, if you are treated like a defenceless victim in an occupied country,don’t resent it. Do what you are asked and do even more ,and do it with good will, for such is my way.’A generation which is forever standing on its rights might well think of that.

 

 

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