Do you have an adversary? Somebody who opposes you at every turn? You may not have a true enemy (although around the world, I know many who do), but I think all of us can think of someone who tends to oppose us on a consistent basis.
If there were someone in my life who fit that description, I would not post a photo of them or tell their story at any rate, so I’ll use the Canada geese, who’ve been driving us nuts by gobbling up all our grass seed, the deer, who like to devour our flowers, the squirrels, who hang upside down from our bird feeder in order to steal the birds’ food, and the birds, who strip our cherry trees before the fruit has a chance to ripen, leaving the ground littered with merely pecked-at fruit!
These are not serious offenders compared to what humans do to one another, but I think they will suffice as gentle illustrations for what Jesus wants us to understand.
Both Matthew and Luke recount the same command, which puzzled me for many years. Matthew 5:25-26 states, “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” This message is repeated in Luke 12:58-59, “When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison.59 I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite.“
For years I was stumped by this, thinking that we should never back down from a fight. I mean, aren’t we supposed to stand against sin and evil? This thinking was reinforced by such verses as, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). Ah, the pride of youth!
The verses in today’s meditation are pointing out the likelihood of each of us to be wrong! Jesus didn’t say to give in to evil (which we are taught to stand against), but to learn how to compromise with our “adversaries” . . . those whose views oppose ours.
In the case of our geese, they leave droppings everywhere and are busy eating up all the fresh grass seed, which we just planted now that most of the construction is complete. My contention is that my grandchildren are coming, and I would like them to be able to play in grass rather than slip and slide in muddy goose droppings!
Their contention is that they have a big family to rear, and I usually don’t complain about their pecking through our grass, who why should I complain now? Mother Goose says I’ve stopped being a very nice neighbor.
If we were taken to the Great Judge, who do you think would win the case? I’m not sure. Feeding your family is more important than having a grassy yard, but on the other hand, if the geese would eat elsewhere this summer (and there are plenty of lawns around our lake), they would be rewarded by abundant grass for pecking next year, so perhaps the judge would rule in favor of our being able to shoo them off! Besides, there is such a thing as private property . . . but, Canada geese are protected by law too. So . . .?? If I had everybody vote, I’ll bet there would be people on both sides of the issue!
So it is with all of life. Each of us has a different sets of needs and wants, and all of us tend to see “our side” of issues as having more value and weight. But, God wants us to learn how to figure out a compromise that meets the needs of all parties concerned!
And, to prod us in the direction of love and understanding, he warns us that things can get really ugly if we don’t figure things out on our own. If we fail to work things out, we might end up on the wrong side of the verdict, and once an issue goes before the court, even though we feel dead sure that we are right, the judge might decide we’re dead wrong. We might end up in a lot of trouble for a long time. And, once you’re in jail, it becomes a bit of a moot issue whether or not your behavior was justified. The bigger issue is that you are no longer able to live your life freely .
The first Queen Elizabeth of England (who was later crowned queen in 1559), while in prison lamented that she wished she could trade places with the milk maid outside her prison walls just so she could be free again. So, it’s not simply about being “right,” it’s about learning how to live with those around you, how to love others too (not just yourself), and how to live in harmony with others as much as is possible. Humility, not pride, should reign supreme in our hearts!
“Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door” (James 5:9).