A lawyer defending a man convicted of burglary tried this creative appeal: “My client merely inserted his arm into the window and removed a few trifling articles. His arm is not himself, and I fail to see how you can punish the whole individual for an offense committed by his limb.”
”Well put,” the judge replied. “Using your logic, I sentence the defendant's arm to one year's imprisonment. He can accompany it or not, as he chooses.” The gavel hit the bench with a thud.
The defendant smiled. With his lawyer's assistance, he detached his artificial limb, laid it on the table, and walked out.
How do you settle disputes? What do you do when your right is violated?
Some years ago, a sweet “how-we-met” story was printed on the newspaper:
Dear Ann Lander: A woman said at the end of World War II, she sat behind a soldier in church. He knew all the lyrics to the songs so she figured he couldn’t be all bad. Later, she learned he was a doctor. Three months later, she slipped and fell on an icy walk and injured her arm. That same doctor insisted she stay in the infirmary, and he visited her twice a day. When she was discharged, he asked her to the movies to celebrate. They subsequently married in the same chapel where they had met.
Here’s how that same story would go if it happened [today]: Last week, I attended church services and noticed that the soldier sitting behind me knew all the words to every song. I figured anyone who knew those lyrics was probably a member of the religious right. I bumped into him a month later. After cussing him out and telling him to watch where he was going, I learned he was a doctor. Three months later, I slipped on an icy walk and injured my arm. After suing the property owner for all I could get, this same doctor treated me and insisted that I stay in the infirmary. He then made twice daily visits to see how I was doing, which made me suspicious. I complained to his supervisor and filed a sexual harassment suit. I was discharged in January, and the doctor asked if I would like to see a movie to celebrate. I told the police he was a stalker and applied for a restraining order. When the doctor asked me to marry him in the same chapel where we first met, I called the FBI. They searched his apartment to make sure there were no shrines built to me and no bodies hidden under the floorboards. I married the guy anyway because, after all, doctors earn six-figure incomes. -- [signed] Tuned in and Turned on in La Jolla, Calif.
That letter may be a little extreme, but would you agree that something tragic has happened in our land, and that something has to do with human relationships? We’re less trusting, more suspicious, fearful of opening ourselves to others. Some of us have no truly close friends. We’re isolated and alone. We wall ourselves into gated communities and worse yet, we don’t even know the other people behind those walls, much less people outside. We come to church every week, but nobody knows us!
A team headed by a Harvard social scientist tracked the lives of 7,000 people over nine years. Here’s what they found. People with the fewest personal relationships were three times more likely to die than those with strong relational connections. Three times! In fact, people with bad health habits such as smoking, poor eating habits, obesity, or alcohol use, but who had strong social ties lived significantly longer than people who had great health habits but were isolated. It seems like it is better to eat Twinkies with good friends than to eat broccoli alone. (John Ortberg, “Everybody’s Normal Until You Get to Know Them” Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan, 2003).
RELATIONSHIPS ARE IMPORTANT. You need to believe that or you cannot appreciate Jesus’ words for today. Last week I sit with the parents of Christopher Brown, a 25 year old young man who was killed in a car crash in Galveston on Labor Day. His parents, Pete and Brenda recalled a long story of their relationship with their son. In fact, every time I sit down with a family to prepare for a funeral, I always hear stories of relationships, of how much they missed their loved ones. How much they missed the times they were together.
Relationships matter. It is important for us to carefully listen to Jesus’ words: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”
This is a most interesting teaching. It begins, “If your brother sins against you . . .” This doesn’t mean your brother in a literal sense though it could. People in one family suppose to love and care for and about one another. But my guess is that there is someone in this church who hasn’t spoken to at least one member of their family for years.
But Jesus is not just talking about our biological brothers or sisters. He is talking about brothers and sisters within the church community. He is talking about you and me and Sarah, and Tom, and Katie, and Jack, and Bill . . . Jesus also would have us interpret “brother” as anyone with whom we have a strong personal relationship. If someone you care about hurts you, make an attempt to heal the relationship as quickly as possible even if you are not at fault.
It would be great if everyone who was estranged from a brother or sister or friend or co-worker or spouse would pick up a phone and make an appointment to sit down with that person to iron out their difficulties! I sound like a dreamer! Feelings of betrayal, anger, hurt, bitterness, and resentment can sometimes overwhelm. If you think this is an easy teaching by our Lord, you have never had anyone hurt you.
Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in their 40 years of working together. It began with a small misunderstanding, and grew into a major difference, and finally exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.
One morning, there was a knock on John's door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter's toolbox. “I'm looking for a few days' work,” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there that I could help with?
Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That's my younger brother! Last week, there was a meadow between us, but he took his bulldozer and dug a small river between us. Well I'm going to do him one better. See that pile of old lumber? I want you to build an 8 foot high fence between us. Then I won't need to see his place or his face anymore.”
The carpenter said, “Show me the nails and the tools, and I'll do a good job for you.”
The older brother had to go to town, so he left for the day. At sunset, when he returned, his eyes opened wide, and his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. The carpenter had built a bridge that stretched from one side of the river to the other, with handrails and all!
And his younger brother was coming toward them, his hand outstretched. “You're quite the guy,” he said, “after all I've said and done.”
The two brothers met in the middle, and shook each other's hand. They turned to see the carpenter leaving. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I've a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.
”I'd love to,” the carpenter said, “but I have many more bridges to build.”
When you and I come to the end of our days, God will not ask how many fences we made, but He will ask how many bridges we built. And St. Paul firmly teaches: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.”