Today saw the end of the sorry saga of the parking ticket and it’s with great sorry that I say my appeal was unsuccessful and as of 10.30 this morning I am £50 lighter. Was that Justice denied? (I’m sure you can guess what I thought about it!)
And so I picked up the phone and dialled the premium rate number to pay up.
I’ll be honest with you here, there were a number of things that occurred to me as the phone rang:
1. It’s a little cheeky to make people call a premium rate phone number when the purpose of the call is to pay a fine;
2. Number (1) above is aggravated by the the two minute recorded message that you must listen to telling you that “all appeals must be done in writing” which I did not need to pay another 90p to be reminded of;
3. Now I’m even more annoyed at the prospect of paying this fine and I might point this out to the person who is about to answer the call;
4. I wonder how many people must call this line each day to argue about their parking ticket in order to make it necessary to have a recorded message to fend them off before they get through to a real person?
5. Perhaps I should stop thinking about how annoyed I am and start thinking about the person who is about to answer this phone call and treat them with some kindness given that they spend their days dealing with people who are really annoyed;
6. I wonder what Jesus makes of all of this as He sits here with me…
Justice is a peculiar thing because upholding it doesn’t stop when the first ‘injustice’ occurs. That means that even when I am being treated unfairly (as I see it) it doesn’t mean that I get to respond however I want in order to get this injustice sorted out. Jesus talked about this sort of thing when he said “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you…If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also…If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” (Matthew 5:38-41). Our response to personal injustice is to be different to others. It’s to break the cycle of ‘you did this to me so I get to do the same back’. (You may remember we looked at the whole ‘eye for an eye’ thing a while back.)
But, you may say, the person who answers my phone call is unlikely to know whether I’m a Christian and the next logical question after asking for my 3 digit-security number from the back of my card is not “So, how did you become a Christian and why would it be good for me?” So if no-one finds out that you are acting justly because you love Jesus, why does it matter so much?
Paul uses dramatic imagery when he deals with this sort of stuff in Romans 12. He calls followers of Jesus to be ‘living sacrifices’. Let’s stop and think about that phrase for a second. What happened to a sacrifice? It was put on an alter and killed. Its blood, representative of its life, was poured out – but who benefitted from that? The sacrificed animal? Clearly not. No, the benefit was entirely someone else’s.
We are to climb onto that alter, each day, in every situation and allow our life to be poured out for the benefit of others. Paul calls that ‘true and proper worship’. It’s tempting to hop onto the alter first thing in the morning and then jump back off it when the day starts getting tough or we walk past certain cheap clothes shops and see a bargain. But it’s not just Paul. Going back to Micah again, what is required of us? More and more extravagant forms of worship? No; to ‘act justly…love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ And then, I’m just going to point to the Cross and see the example of the One we are called to imitate.
I might never meet the guy who answered that phone call and he may have had no idea I was Christian, but he encountered the Kingdom of God in that five minute phone call when I treated him with respect and kind words even though that was not necessarily what was going on inside my head. I had a choice, and on that occasion I’m pleased to tell you that the £50 I paid over was done in the course of act of worship for a God who is awesome.