APRIL 20, 2017
A few years ago I taught a children’s class on Sunday mornings at church. It was time for my class to hit the playground; I plopped down on the bench while all the tiny people scattered around like ants as if their mound had just been kicked over. I took notice of another teacher who seemed a bit tense. I observed her pacing back and forth, shadowing one of the little boys. He kept watching her out of the corner of his eye and continued about his business, pretending not to see her at all.
Suddenly, he bolted towards the opening of the slide and began climbing up. His teacher called him back down, reminding him that this wasn’t the proper way to use the slide because he could get hurt, or hurt someone else. He ignored her and continued to make his way up the slide, to the top, pushing through the line of children waiting to take their turn down. The teacher’s face turned beat red at his disregard of her words, and she returned to shadowing him. This cycle went on a few more times, him climbing up the slide, her giving commands, him remaining unfazed, which brought about more intense shadowing.
Finally, she had enough. This time, when he made his little way down the stairs of the slide, she was waiting for him. She told him that he would have to sit in time out on the bench for the remainder of playground time. He simply ignored her and continued to make his way back to the bottom of the slide. She picked up her pace and tried to grab his hand, to guide him over to the bench. He surprised her by picking up the pace, dodging under the slide, out of her reach. Suddenly, I was witnessing a game of chase.
There was no way this woman was going to catch him, her heels digging into the mulch and dirt. In desperation, she began yelling, “OBEY!!!! Do you hear me? I said OBEY!!!!” The little boy was sprinting away from her, head back, laughing like a little mad man at the sky. I had to cover my face with my hand because I was laughing too. Finally, the teacher quit chasing him and sat next to me, mumbling something about how his parents must not require obedience in their home for him to be so disrespectful and out of control. I had never seen the boy before and asked if he was a visitor. She answered yes. My heart sank a little and I stopped smirking.
I think I was laughing in part because I’m a little immature. There’s this part of me that gets a kick out of the way little boys’ minds work. In fact, I have one of those, and there are many times while trying to correct my son for doing something off the wall, that I have to turn my face away so that he doesn’t see my sheer delight in his devious creativity. I think the other part of me laughed because I became aware of how ridiculous we tend to be. I included myself in that accusation, it’s probably why at one point, I stopped smiling.
The thing is, we really do think that the law has the power to keep us in line. We look at other people who are screwing it all up (probably in the same ways that we are) and we grab the law, ball it up like a pair of dirty socks, and just lob it at them.
When it doesn’t work, we get flustered at them. Really flustered. We come up with a list of the reasons *cough* judgments *cough* why they refuse to just do the right thing like we told them to. We conveniently fail to remember that this approach never works on us either, but we are really into that whole self-righteous disillusionment thing.
Don’t get me wrong. The law is good and there’s a time to use it. The teacher was right in correcting the boy and warning him of the dangers that his disobedience could bring, not just to himself but to others as well. Sharing that kind of truth is the loving thing to do. One of the problems that she *ahem* we have is in thinking that by simply shouting “Obey!”, it will be the thing that stops someone dead in their tracks for good. It might make them pull back from danger for a little while, or it may just make them run away from us. But the law doesn’t have the power to make us stop wanting to do the crazy, dangerous thing nor does it stop us from giving side eye to the edge of shadows, waiting for that golden moment the opportunity to rebel presents itself.
For all of this, we need the gospel. We need to hear about God’s love and pursuit of sinners that is so relentless we can’t possibly outrun it. As far as we may go into sin and stupidity, grace goes even farther. Christ did for us that which the law could never accomplish. The gospel alone is the only thing that inclines our hearts back to God and makes us come to our senses. We need to give up, plop down, and maybe laugh a little at ourselves for the way we run around frantically trying to grasp for control of others as we finesse tripping over our own failures. If you’re tired of getting your heels caught in the dirt, I’ve got some good news. To the weary, Jesus says, “come”.
Maybe try that one out on your friends.