If someone brings a lawsuit against you and takes you to court, settle the dispute while there is time, before you get to court. Once you are there, you will be turned over to the judge, who will hand you over to the police, and you will be put in jail. There you will stay, I tell you, until you pay the last penny of your fine.
This is a continuation of Jesus’ teaching about anger and violence. He is explaining to his disciples how they can be “more faithful than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees in doing what God requires.” (See Day 23).
I’ve heard this preached as though it is a metaphor – with God as the harsh judge who will make you pay for all your sins. To me this is not a metaphor. I think Jesus is talking about the actual Jewish legal system. I think he’s telling his disciples that if you’ve done something wrong it’s better to admit it and make amends than to try to “get away with” your crime by letting it go to court for adjudication. Jesus says avoid the courts. If you apologize to the person you’ve wronged, he may take pity on you and show you some mercy. When this happens there is reconciliation and peace is restored. It’s all good.
But if, out of anger, fear, pride, greed or selfishness you insist on going through the legal process, the truth will come out and you will be punished. Jesus says you will get no mercy in the court system. Justice will be served and they will make you pay in the end. There’s always a possibility of grace when you are dealing with a person, but when you leave it to the courts it’s all about the law. Sometimes I watch court tv shows. If you’ve ever watched Judge Judy you know what I’m talking about. Don’t expect to get any mercy from her.
The legal process does not create reconciliation. It creates hard feelings and escalates conflicts to a higher level. On those court tv shows they interview the litigants at the end of the show, and I’ve never seen any of them walk away as friends. They are still just as mad as when they came in. The legal process creates equity, justice, and hopefully closure. But the legal system does not deal with reconciliation, forgiveness and restoration of relationship. That’s what God really wants, and we have to do that on our own.
I knew someone who was sued by her sister-in-law. The whole family was affected by it and the holidays were especially difficult. It dragged on for years. In fact, it dragged on for so many years that I don’t know how it all turned out. She retired from our workplace, moved to another town, and we lost touch.
In my opinion, courts are great for settling your disputes with corporations and other institutional entities. But when it comes to your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and other individuals I think it’s a good idea to stay out of the courts, especially if you are wrong. Judge Judy is pretty hard to fool, and you’ll get no mercy from her.
What does this scripture say to you?