As we begin the next chapter in our walk through the virtues, we find ourselves examining the idea of justice. While thinking through how best to introduce this topic to our students, a story from my childhood stood out fresh in my memory. I shared this story with our students in chapel before the Thanksgiving break:
A few years ago now – back when I was in college, I would return to my parents’ home for the Christmas break in order to make some money working for my Dad. As I shared with you last year, my dad is a farmer, and he always had extra work for us to do if we were able. (I’m not going to say willing, because he didn’t really care if we were willing.)
Anyways, one thing about farm work is that it starts early. And one thing about me in college, I did not start early. I loved sleeping in, especially on cold mornings.
But on my Dad’s farm, you are expected to be out in the field with your crew by 7:15am. This meant I needed to be out the door by 6:30am.
Well, on this one particular morning, it was cold. I mean COLD. Canada cold. You could hear the wind rattling the windows. The thermostat outside read 30 below zero. I’m pretty sure I could see my breath in my own room!
So you can imagine that when my alarm went off, I simply hit the snooze button. When it went off again. Snooze again.
When I finally bothered to look at the clock it read 6:55….
I was late. Really late.
Jumping up out of bed, angry at myself for sleeping in so long, I grabbed the warmest clothes I could find, some food out of the pantry for breakfast, and ran outside to see that my dad had already left for work.
That meant that the only vehicle left in our driveway was an old farm truck. It was completely snowed in and frozen over. I did my best to brush off the snow and turned it on so that the heat would eventually melt the ice on the windshield and I could see where I was going.
But the heat was taking forever to get hot and I couldn’t wait. So I scratched a small circle to see out of, jumped into the truck and raced to the farm to make it in time.
Now the road to the farm is pretty straight. And being in the country, you can usually go pretty fast. Except in one area, where there is a school. You need to slow down drastically.
Of course, being in a hurry, and it being really early AND a season where school is out, I figured it wouldn’t matter if I just raced through to get to work on time.
Well sure enough just as I passed the school in my old frozen truck, what I couldn’t see out of my frozen window was a police cruiser sitting right there in the school lot.
Suddenly the rearview mirror was filled with red and blue lights as the police car moved in behind to pull me over.
Now I really was going to be late to work.
Sitting there in the cold, the officer came over to my window.
“License and registration,” he said.
I looked around me – I left my license at home, and the truck wasn’t registered for the road since it was one of my dad’s farm vehicles….
“Sorry officer,” I said. “I don’t have those.” He just started writing notes.
“You know you are not wearing your seatbelt right?”
“No sir,” I said. “I mean, I realize now, but I didn’t realize it a moment ago.” More writing.
“Do you know how fast you were going?”
“Faster than the speed limit?” I guessed…
“You were going 90 and this is school zone – 50.”
“Yes sir. Sorry sir.”
“And are you aware it is against the law to drive without visibility, and that includes an iced-over windshield?”
I considered telling him I could see through the little hole I scratched in the ice, but decided against it, realizing nothing much I had to say at this point could change the officer’s opinion of my choices that morning.
“Well son,” he said, “you’ve racked up quite the list this morning:
- Going 90 in a 50 = $350
- No Seatbelt – $150
- No visibility – $150
- Failure to show a valid Licence $100
- Failure to show proof of registration – $150
That’s over $900 dollars. Let me go write this up for you. And off he walked to his car.”
Now I wasn’t thinking of it at the time, but it was a good moment to reflect on Justice. Do you remember how we defined Justice? Justice is giving everyone his or her due.
So what was my due? Over $900 dollars. Not to mention the missed wages for being late for work or the insurance hit my dad’s vehicle would take with this ticket on one of his vehicles.
Would it be just? Or – Did I deserve this due?
Yes! I had broken about 5 laws clearly designed for my own good and the good of others! So much for saving money for college this Christmas…
If only I hadn’t slept in! I proceeded to beat myself up for another 10 minutes, when I was disrupted by the officer who had returned and was knocking on my window.
He stood there with the ticket containing all the ways I broke the law that morning.
And then he said, something I didn’t expect. “The farm plates on your truck, say ‘Maple Leaf Nurseries.’”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “That’s where I work. It’s my Dad’s farm.”
He said, “You’re Ted’s son?”
“Yes sir. Just home from college.”
“Well,” he said, “you probably don’t know me, but I know your Dad really well. I’m sure you’re more afraid of being at work late than this ticket.”
“Almost…” I laughed.
“Well, you’re fortunate this is Christmas and NO one is in school. Also that I know your Dad. He’s a good guy.”
And then he ripped up the ticket.
He told me to get to work, and to get a new vehicle for tomorrow’s trip to work, wear a seatbelt, and if he ever caught me speeding in a school zone again, he’d double the fine.
Grateful, I left and made it to work. Late, but not broke.
So what did I learn about Justice?
Justice is getting our DUE.
And my DUE was to pay the price for all the ways I broke the law. And believe me, there have been many times where I did not get away free from an officer for speeding or for not wearing my seatbelt!
But this time I did, and one thing struck me: I wasn’t released from the officer for anything I had done, but simply because of my identity as the SON of my FATHER.
The work of my FATHER in the community and HIS reputation preceded mine. The officer’s relationship with my father, allowed him to look at me in a different light.
And isn’t that the GOSPEL?
We are all sinners. And the Bible makes no question about it – the wages of our sin is death. That is ultimately our DUE.
BUT – what if our identity as SONS to a FATHER changed all of that? What if the GOOD work of a FATHER preceded our own works of sin?
In I JOHN 3 we learn exactly that: The LOVE of God is revealed in that he calls us his sons.
And as his sons, he sets us free to live in obedience.
And in this season of thankfulness, let’s give thanks first and foremost for this LOVE – that calls us the children of God.