“To be or not to be, that is the question,” asked Shakespeare through his character Hamlet, in the play by the same name. That’s probably both Hamlet’s and Shakespeare’s most famous line. But the question is incomplete. “To be or not to be WHAT?” What are we going to fall on our swords over this year? Being right or being Jesus?
When I was a teen, I was one opinionated bugger. Why shouldn’t I be? I thought. I’m right! And often I may even have been right, politically, morally, and spiritually. I was a Reagan-Republican, after all. I knew my Bible backwards and forwards. But I was missing something. In my self-righteousness, even when I got it right I missed the best. I so often missed Jesus’ heart.
If just being right is our goal, then we get really angry because everyone else is just so wrong. Just spend an afternoon on FaceBook and you’ll see what I mean. Being right, as an end in itself, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It takes a lot of energy arguing with all those people who just won’t get it, no matter how right we are. Maybe there’s a better way to change the world.
The Pharisees were totally right. Always, just ask them. They were conservatives who knew the Law, chapter and verse. They brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11), who according to the Law of Moses should be stoned. That was the “right” thing to do. (BTW, adultery’s not a solitary crime. According to the Law of Moses, the man also should be stoned [Leviticus 20:10]. I guess they rationalized that bit away – first clue they missed something – selective application of the Law. Being all men, the Pharisee’s probably rationalized excusing the man.)
But, fortunately for us, Jesus isn’t after right. He’s after best. The best does not violate what’s right, it supersedes it. You know the story, Jesus saved the woman without violating the Law of Moses. We should, too.
Jesus talks about dying to ourselves. In fact, he says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). But wait, that means denying my rights! That’s downright un-American. Was Jesus a communist or something?
No, but he’s after what’s best, not just what’s right, something better than what’s right. Sometimes, often, love means dying to our right to be right.
In high school, a certain bully was going to beat-up my friend Don. After successfully evading the bully one hot summer afternoon, Don drove past him walking home carrying a load of books under the hot sun. Don could’ve honked and waved as he drove by in his air-conditioned car. But he didn’t. He pulled over and offered the bully a ride.
No one was more surprised than the bully. The guy almost fell over. It took him a minute to realize the offer was genuine and Don wasn’t just goading him. “Why are you doing this? Why would give me a ride?”, asked one surprised bully.
“Because it looks like you need one,” my friend Don simply replied. The bully accepted, and they became close friends after that. (And nobody dared mess with Don again or the bully would pulverize them.)
My friend would’ve been within his rights to pass by the bully. But he correctly discerned the Kingdom of God had something better in mind.
This doesn’t mean we don’t hold people accountable when necessary. It’s actually love to hold criminals and abusers and narcissists accountable (1) to prevent future victims, and (2) so they have the opportunity to get help (if they don’t take the opportunity, that’s on them). It’s also love to discipline our children.
But in the common everyday stuff of life, mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:13). The best triumphs over the right.
What about you? Does this resonate? Have you shown mercy and had it be better than the “right” would’ve been? Or have you had someone show you mercy when you didn’t deserve it? Tell us your story in the comments, and please share if you think this post would bless someone else.