One of the saddest parts of our criminal justice system is when the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, or even worse, when it doesn’t fit the non-crime. Sometimes laws are well-intentioned, but the enforcement of them goes way beyond the reasons for the laws. One of those areas is the “three-strike” law that many states have. If a person commits three felonies, they can be jailed for life. The purpose was to deal with violent felons, especially drug dealers, who kept getting light sentences. The law has often been used against people involved in non-violent crimes. The Civil Asset Forfeiture laws take a different approach. The assumption is that money or materials have either been used in the commission of a crime or are benefits of the crime. So, a cop can stop a car on the highway and, if he finds an uncommon amount of cash, confiscate it. No crime may have been committed, but the fight to get the cash back, or any other seized property, is long and expensive.
We all want crime to stop. We don’t want criminals to profit from their crimes. But sometimes, authorities go overboard. They misinterpret the law. They use the law to oppress people they don’t like. Laws are meant to restrain evil in society, but if those enforcing the laws are evil, or afflicted with greed, the checks and balances become complicated. Needless to say, Jesus had to deal with over-zealous enforcement of the Law when the Pharisees sought to chop Him down to size. “But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.” (Matthew 12:14)
The Pharisees had a problem with Jesus. He kept flouting the laws, as they understood them. He was particularly bad about following the Sabbath. The occasion that initiated these plots to kill Jesus was that He had healed another person on the Sabbath. Before He did that, Jesus confronted the Pharisees and forced them to face the real meaning of the purpose of the Sabbath. They asked Jesus if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath and Jesus responded by comparing man, favorably of course, to an animal in distress on the Sabbath. His ultimate response was that it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. This doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, but it bent the Pharisees out of shape.
The message of Jesus on this issue should shock all of us. The message is that people are more important than the Law. The laws written by our government should be done to help all people. God’s Law was designed ultimately to care for people and deal with disputes fairly. But here’s where it gets personal. We need to avoid enforcing God’s laws for Him and focus on finding ways to help others. There is an even deeper Law in effect here: Jesus invoked that Law when He went to the cross to die on our behalf. Our job is to show others the mercy of God. “But people are wrong! But people commit sins!” you might argue. You would be right. What are you going to say to “fix them” and “cure them of their sinfulness?” The only way to fix people who are wrong; the only way to cure sinfulness is through the mercy of God to forgive sins, and the power of the Holy Spirit working by grace as He draws us into fellowship with God. I have found that I have enough wrong and sinfulness in my own life that I don’t have time to deal with the wrong and sinfulness in the lives of others. What I can do for all people is tell them about the love and mercy of Jesus Christ when they recognize their sinfulness and think there is no hope. It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. It is lawful to share God’s love for all people at any time.
Oh Lord, how hard it is for me to stop fixing people when they’re wrong. In truth, Lord, I never fixed anyone – just made them mad. So I pray for all the wrong and sinful people today: let them know You and Your mercy. Work in them to make them conform to Your image.