I was walking through town on a Sunday afternoon in June. A bicyclist rode down Main Street moving very fast. The SUV driving directly in front of that bicycle slowed down for the red light it was approaching. Just before that red light, the driver of the SUV veered to the right, having seen a difficult to acquire parallel parking spot on the Main Street curb. The bicyclist slammed on his brakes as he was attempting to pass the SUV on the inside between the SUV and the curb making no attempt whatsoever to slow down for the red light. Coming to a halt he yelled at the driver indignantly, “WHY DIDN’T YOU SIGNAL???” The driver looked sheepish. The bicyclist spoke something else under his breath, then processed to ride through the red light.
The car that had the right of way driving through the intersection slowed down to avoid hitting the bicycle. The indignant bicyclist didn’t see the oncoming car, but a few pedestrians did. We had stopped when we heard the brakes screeching to watch this scene unfold. A father who had been walking with his children the opposite direction I was going shrugged his shoulders. We both exchanged smiles. “And I thought the drivers in New Canaan were bad,” I joked. I found my new friend’s responsive laugh encouraging.
We all have blind spots.
Sometimes our blind spots come in the form of righteous indignation. “WHY DIDN’T YOU SIGNAL???,” we say. Maybe we say worse (or at least think it). Either way we judge others by our own set of prejudices without taking the time to appreciate another perspective, or we are so convinced we are in the right we won’t even listen to another view. The bicyclist was sure the driver of the SUV cut him off without noticing the red light. Should the driver have signaled? Of course. Should the bicyclist have tried to pass on the inside so he could ride though a red light? No way. As he rode through the red light after the near collision it seemed to me that this bicyclist was better suited for a closed track than the open road. But what about me? I could not be accused of being the world’s best driver. Have I always stopped at every red light or stop sign while on my bike? (I’d rather not answer that question. Not one of us gets it right 100% of the time.
Laws are in place to protect us from our lapses and call us out when we get it wrong. Good order holds us accountable to each other and the community at large. It is important to internalize how our actions impact others, because laws are ultimately not about just upholding the rules – they are about how we relate to each other that ultimately matters.
The questions for us to consider are: How do we choose to relate to one another in our church community? and, How do we relate to those outside it?
Are we bicyclists; oblivious to how his actions impact others?
Are we SUV drivers; so happy to find parking we forget to signal?
Are we the people on the sidewalk; laughing at the ignorance of others?
Are we innocent bystanders; happy not tom get involved?
Or can we be somebody else?
The theological category of “law” puts these questions in perspective – reminding us of things done and left undone. It is here where not getting it right 100% of the time begins to accumulate. But to turn-around (the literal meaning of the word “repent”) points us in another direction, perhaps one we had not noticed before.*
The theological category of “gospel” frees us in Christ to care for others. The good news of Jesus (centered in his life, death, and resurrection) points us away from things done and left undone and instead gives us new vision of working in God’s Kingdom – without guilt or other self-congratulating motivators because Jesus bears all things for us. We help others because they need help, because we are called to serve, and because we do not need to be worried about either reward or retribution. Instead we start to see ourselves in union with Jesus, acting in concert with him for the world – even though we have no business doing so. Grace, mercy, forgiveness, and renewal are not just words we say, but a change in our very perspective on the life we are leading. We become grace-agents, called to live, love and see others in a whole new way.
So what to say about the SUV driver, the bicyclist and us?
Enforcing laws and keeping snarkiness from sidewalk conversations can help to a certain extent. But placing limitations only goes so far. The gospel frees us to see things differently; whether we are walking, riding or driving. When we start to be concerned for each other, rather than seeking a quick laugh, a better parking spot or a quicker way to our destination, new vision toward how we live and treat one another comes to light by the Spirit’s aid. How we begin to think about those moments and start looking at the world differently is located in the question, “With whom am I more concerned: myself or those around me?” Maybe instead of screaming, “WHY DIDN’T YOU SIGNAL???” We ask of each other, “How can I help?” Our prayers are better guided by asking God to utilize for the sake of others, rather than getting us there more quickly or finding that elusive parking space.
Who knows what good might come of it? Driving in town might even one day become enjoyable… 🙂
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)
* Martin Luther began his famous Ninety-Five Thesis with this opening argument, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘repent’ (Matt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” (Martin Luther, “The Ninety-Five Theses or Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences , Thesis 1,” Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings. ed. Timothy F. Lull. [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989], 21.)
How might we live a life of repentance?