By Ward Shope
In January, the church received a summons to appear before district court by the police of our township. It was not completely unexpected. Over the last year, our burglar alarm had summoned the police a number of times without apparent cause. The standing rule is that if this happens three times or more, a business is liable to pay a fine because of the resources it takes to check the alarm out. The police had actually been generous, not issuing a citation until the fifth time.
I had appeared in court on behalf of the church in October. We had apparently solved the problem, and the police accepted that. So the judge continued the case without a fine with the stipulation that there be no further incidents.
We got through the end of the year and I breathed a sigh of relief. But in January, we had another unexplainable alarm. So back to court I went. I had decided beforehand not to plead our case. For one thing, we were actually in violation of the judge’s ruling and the police’s policy. For another, I wanted to represent the church and Jesus in a favorable light. The first time, I had thanked the police in front of the judge for their care of us and our willingness to submit to their authority. Their cruisers are always welcome in our parking lot to do paperwork. I had no desire to damage our good relationship with them.
I was surprised when I got to court. Despite deciding many cases every day, the judge’s memory about our first meeting was incredibly accurate. She almost pleaded for me to argue my case, basically apologizing for levying a fine. But I decided to stick with my original decision and we paid the fine.
I don’t know if that decision is always the right decision to make, or if it would have been wrong to plead our case. I certainly had that right in our justice system, and there probably were some good points I could have made. Nor do I know if my reticence to argue our case made an impression on the judge or the police representative there in court. But I am concerned about the way the unbelieving world perceives believers in our age of polarity and discord.
By and large, unbelievers are not impressed by being out-debated by believers (or by believers trying to out-debate them). Nor are they favorably disposed to believers who outmaneuver them (or try to outmaneuver them). There’s nothing distinctive about doing either of these in an age where gaining the upper hand is a religion in itself. What is unique is loving those who curse you or willingly submitting to those who seek to punish you.
There will be those who always see this as foolishness and weakness. Yet, this time of year I remember Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate, who could not understand why Jesus would not defend himself and sought (weakly) to set him free. I also remember Jesus’ willing submission to his Father’s will to be punished by death for undeserving sinners in our world. From an eternal perspective Jesus’ willing submission accomplished far more than our active pursuit of the upper hand ever could. Isn’t that what we ultimately want as believers?