On Settling Disputes
Preparing for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, One Day before Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
Old Testament: Genesis 44:18-34
Gospel: Luke 12:57-59
Holy God, you gather the whole universe into your radiant presence and continually reveal your Son as our Savior. Bring healing to all wounds, make whole all that is broken, speak truth to all illusion, and shed light in every darkness, that all creation will see your glory and know your Christ. Amen.
“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny” (Luke 12:57-59).
I have been called for jury duty several times in my adult life, but I have never been seated. I know most people hope to get out of jury duty when they have been summoned, but I have always wanted to sit for a trial. Law has always been an interest of mine, and I think the experience of hearing a case put before the court would be quite interesting.
Of course, being a jurist is a sobering responsibility, especially if the defendant is charged with a capital crime. We hear stories about people serving years in prison and later exonerated. Where do they go to get those years of captivity back? Sometimes we read of someone who was executed for murder and are found years later through DNA evidence to have been innocent. There is no way to reverse the consequences of that verdict. Being a juror is serious and sobering business.
I remember on one occasion, sitting in the courtroom with other possible jurors waiting for the selection process to begin. At one point the presiding judge came in and informed us that there would be no trial because the plaintiff and the defendant had settled their dispute at the last minute. The judge explained that sometimes when the parties involved see people entering the courthouse for jury duty, they realize that what is about to happen is serious business and they may end up losing more than they would gain if they came to an agreement. So, they settle to avoid possibly losing everything in court.
That’s what Jesus had in mind in Luke 12:57-59. We all know that disputes between people, even if they don’t rise to the level of being adjudicated in the courtroom can fester and get worse as time goes on. The more we think about the slight we have received, they angrier we get, and the more we can come to resent the other person we are fighting with. Nothing good comes from a wound that is allowed to fester. In fact, crimes have been committed from nursing such anger allowing it to become rage. Jesus’ advice is clear. Settle the matter before things get worse. Otherwise, we may find ourselves in an intolerable situation that could have been avoided.
At the heart of the gospel is reconciliation. The Apostle Paul says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). From the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis, God has been in the business of reconciling the world. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the final and complete installment in that reconciliation. As Jesus’ followers, we offer in word and deed that reconciliation. If we are not reconciled in our relationships, we cannot be Jesus’ ambassadors of reconciliation in integrity. No one will believe us that in Jesus, God wants to bring the world together in him, if we are divided ourselves.
Reconciliation can be hard work, but for Christians it is necessary work, even in our own lives.