Leap Before You Look
Dr. Jim Denison
A friend recently sent me this list of questions to think about:
Why doesn’t glue stick to the inside of the bottle?
Why isn’t “phonetic” spelled the way it sounds?
Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?
If 7-11 stores are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, why are there locks on their doors?
Why is it that something transported by car is called a shipment, but something transported by a ship is called cargo?
How does the guy who drives the snowplow get to work?
Some questions are worth contemplation, and some aren’t. I read this week that the African impala can jump higher than ten feet and longer than thirty, yet one can be kept in any zoo enclosure with a three-foot wall. The reason? These animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall. The paralysis of analysis. Afraid to leap before they look.
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he is dealing with anger and forgiveness. We must not hate or hurt; we must initiate reconciliation. Now he tells us when to do this: today. Make right what is wrong. No matter what prudence dictates, or your circumstances suggest. No matter how hard it is, or what people will think. Now. Leap before you look. Here’s why.
Make right what is wrong, now
Jesus paints the picture: “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way” (v. 26a).
According to Roman law, the plaintiff could carry the accused with him to stand before the judge. No arresting officer was needed.
The Greeks called this “apegagon”—the legal act by which a man could catch another by the robe at the throat and drag him before the courts. Crimes which were subject to this action were stealing clothes at the public baths, picking pockets, house-breaking, and kidnapping.
The Jews allowed this action in the case of financial debt. A man owes you for services rendered, but won’t pay. You see him walking down the road, and are legally allowed to grab him and haul him before the judge.
The defendant may be innocent of the charges, or guilty. But he can be arrested in this way, nonetheless.
So you have such a situation, legally or relationally. You are at odds with someone. They accuse you, or slander you, or condemn you. Perhaps they’re right or wrong on the merits—Jesus doesn’t say. But you’re wrong with each other. What do you do?
“Settle matters.” The Greek word means to “make friends,” to seek good will with someone. It is a word describing the attitude which comes before the action, your heart before your hand.
Don’t react to your adversary by becoming his. Don’t seek to repay his accusations with your own. Don’t hit back. Don’t plot revenge. Seek reconciliation.
When? “Quickly … while you are still with him on the way.”
The adversaries could settle “out of court” before they reached the judge. But once before him, the law must prevail.
Do it now. Don’t wait. No conditions. No exceptions.
Why? “He may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny” (vs. 25b-26).
If you delay, things will only get worse. Your private conflict becomes public.
And your debt becomes harder and harder to pay. You must pay “the last penny,” the Roman quadrans, a coin worth 1½ cent today. But you’re in prison, so earning the money to pay this debt is harder than ever before. Your family and friends will likely be required to help. The ripples of this conflict spread ever further and further. Things go from bad to worse. Inevitably.
When I taught at Southwestern Seminary I had a student who missed three weeks of school and nearly died from a blood infection which started with a splinter in his thumb he ignored. When I pastored New Hope Baptist Church we had a member who nearly died from a spider bite he ignored. In Atlanta one of my best friends in our church nearly died from a black mole on his shoulder he ignored until it became melanoma. Cancer always spreads. Make right what is wrong, now.
Objections to reconciliation
But seeking reconciliation is hard, isn’t it? And we have many objections. We don’t want to admit we’re wrong, or wronged. We’d rather keep things the way they are, whether the problem is with Iraq or with our spouse. We learn to live with the pain, the self-pity or anger, the bitterness or betrayal. We have many reasons not to act today.
Someone will say to me this morning, the debt is too great. The pain is too deep. You don’t know how badly I’ve been hurt. I cannot let it go. I cannot initiate pardon and reconciliation.
But Jesus prayed for those who drove nails into his wrists and feet, who stripped his clothes and spat in his face: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
And so Stephen prayed for those who held stones with which they would crush his skull and end his life: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).
I read this week about Walter Everett, pastor of the United Methodist Church of Hartford, Connecticut, who performed the wedding ceremony for his son’s killer. Michael Carlucci shot Scott Everett to death in 1987. He pled guilty to manslaughter and was imprisoned. Pastor Everett corresponded with him and eventually visited him in prison. Carlucci told him that after receiving Everett’s first letter, he knelt in his prison cell and asked God for forgiveness. In the prison, after an hour-long meeting, the two men stood, shook hands, embraced, and cried. Pastor Everett said, “Christians won’t be able to understand why Jesus came and what Jesus is all about unless we forgive.” Carlucci now runs a trucking business and spends his spare time speaking to prison inmates about what God has done in his life.