Jesus Weighs In and Lightens Things Up

by Phil Johnson

Jesus was a practical person. I suspect he had some principles. In fact I know he did, like “the Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath.” But he kept his eye on the ball of everyday life. Jesus said to make friends with your accuser quickly on the way to court or he’ll take you for everything. He said it colorfully and humorously. “Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison.” (Luke 12:58)

People laugh as Jesus talks. Justice is not the concern. Who knows what the squabble might be about? It doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about right or wrong. Get clear of the situation. “Make friends.” Though he made folks laugh and makes us smile, he wasn’t kidding. Make friends. If at all possible, make friends. Set aside other objectives or make them secondary to making friends. This is what to do if you want a happier pilgrimage.

Our “field trip” — looking at the funny stuff in the Bible — is a quest for a light heart. We are looking for nuggets of humor. Nuggets of humor, examples of friendship, and times of fun are pearls of great price. On this field trip we let go the notions that what we are to find and learn about are obligations. Jesus’ interpretations of scripture liberate. Remember that Jesus did not have a copy of the Hebrew Scriptures, of the “Law and the Prophets.” He didn’t know a word of the “New Testament.” He looks at scripture from a different direction than religious people. For him it is not about obligation and judgment. If obligation and judgment are still somehow values, let them fall below our radar. They are not our interest, nor were they his. If they are important, there are plenty of prophets of obligation to keep people alert. Help and attention are needed on the gospel front. Prophets with humor are needed.

We are not likely to walk to court with our adversary. We live in a different place and are in different situations. Regardless of the differences, Jesus thinks it is better to have no business in court at all. It may be unfortunate if you do.

He didn’t say the courts had no function or that they are merely necessary evils. They are quite the opposite, they are structures of grace. I think Jesus would back me on this. If a court is not trustworthy, it must still claim to be so as that is a court’s inescapable purpose. You can hold even the most corrupt to that. Thank God for courts, but if you can keep out of them, do. Make friends with your accuser. I like to carry a copy of the Constitution in my back pocket. I might bookmark it on my iPhone.

Booby Allen, my steadfast and very funny friend, my good buddy, did perpetrate one day, during the summer after 4th grade, a not-to-be reported injustice upon me. Ten out of ten people would agree. In righteous rage, I chased him down the block and across the Highway 53 (30 mph zone). Neither of us were looking out for cars, a big truck hit the brakes, the driver was yelling out the window, not liking how close a call it was. But I was not going to let Booby get away. I chased him into the garage section of the Phillips 66 station. I thought I had him. My eyes took in the dirt floor and the worn and oil-stained work bench. No one but us in the garage. I got Booby up against the back workbench. He grabbed the grease gun on the workbench and instantly squirted me in the face — with not the slightest hesitation! My dismay at my failure to punish Booby (Robert or Bobby if anyone must know) and the added fuel of further, unthinkable injury — grease in my face — broke out into laughter. Neither of us had ever thought of, or seen, anything so funny. Booby put the grease gun down, we crossed the highway properly and safely, laughing and talking as we walked down the block with arms over shoulders.

That’s the sort of practical, fun-loving, life-loving, not-take-yourself-so-seriously stuff that Jesus blessed with delight. We were not headed to court.

Phil Johnson is Editor Emeritus of Pietisten.

See all articles by Phil Johnson