Here is a riddle. If I kicked a sleeping dog out of my way and the dog jumped up and bit me, who is responsible for the injury?
I asked my granddaughter. She said, “You are...you bugged the dog.” I asked a friend. She laughed, tongue-in-cheek, “Oh, the dog, of course.”
It is plainly irrational to expect even the gentlest of pets to control themselves under any provocation. If I raised my boot, no animal would meekly apologize, “I’m sorry. I’m sleeping in an inconvenient spot and got in the way of your foot.”
Suppose I mistreat not a sleeping canine but my neighbor. I might not kick him, but my dog (if I had one) might get into his garbage and spread it all over his lawn. Then he might retaliate and shovel said garbage over the fence for me to clean up. And I might call the police, and he might sue me, and the feud is on.
Feuds start so easy but how does one stop them? Or how do we counsel others who bring us their feud stories, especially if they are not willing to be responsible for their part in the fracas?
A man in the middle of such a feud came to Jesus. Obviously, his brother had taken what this man felt belonged to him because he said, “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
It is so easy to take sides. “How unfair of your brother...” or maybe “What did YOU do to him?” But Jesus wouldn’t take sides. He responded, “Who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” Then He turned to the crowd and said, “Beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
Strange answer? Not really. Jesus hit at the heart of the bickering. Human greed and covetousness can divide even brothers. Both were guilty, but Jesus refused to assume the position of deciding which was at greater fault. That would only fuel the feud. Instead, His answer to the crowd pointed to inner motives. He was saying if personal sin is in the heart, watch out. But there is an alternative.
The dog’s response is not my problem. My responsibility is finding a better way to get its attention than booting it. And if I do use my foot in impatience, that and my lack of kindness need to be dealt with. Certainly, this applies to relationships with people too.
Should that same imaginary dog rummage through the neighbor’s garbage, it’s my responsibility. A quick trip next door with my rake and shovel would pacify my angry neighbor. If he beat me to it, the same rake and shovel still needs application, even if I’m not excited about the change of location. Keeping better tabs on my dog would avoid future problems, and an apology will stop the impending feud. There are better ways to settle issues than with retaliation or going to God and asking Him to get even for me.
What about my neighbor’s responsibility? I can’t find a chapter and verse for him! Jesus tells me to love my neighbor — not demand that my neighbor loves me. And He refuses to take any sides in battles that result from my sin and self-centeredness. If I provoke my enemy (or even my friends) to anger, He expects me to make it right—even if the dog woke up with a yawn or the neighbor cleaned up the mess without saying anything. Their grace would not excuse my cruelty or negligence!
Silly riddles? Silly issues? Little spats never amount to anything? Last week’s news: a man was convicted of killing another man in a dispute that began when one tossed and hit the other with a jellybean.
I don’t think either one of them bothered to consult Jesus.