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Reflection: Just Doing My Job

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26 It is not right to make an innocent person pay a fine; justice is perverted when good people are punished.

Proverbs 17:26 GNT


It is wrong to punish the godly for being good or to flog leaders for being honest.

Proverbs 17:26 NLT

“I’m just doing my job.”

These are the words of people whose work involves unpleasant or unpopular responsibilities.

They are sometimes the words of people whose hands have been tied by another person’s transgressions. They acknowledge that while, under ideal conditions, we would not be having this conversation, something has occurred to remove ideal conditions. Maybe it was my decision, literally, figuratively, or symbolically, to park in that spot I knew was illegal, because it was marked as illegal, and I gambled that for ten minutes I could get away with it. And I’m looking for grace now, after my transgression, instead of looking for grace in advance to not have to commit it. And because I can’t, I’m blaming the officer instead of blaming my choices.

We have many ways of fining the innocent.

We often beat up leaders for being honest.

We persecute people who are just doing their job.

And while certain the relative health and fairness of certain systems may make some of us question if we want to hold the jobs we do, we will nonetheless find ourselves in many circumstances in which the people angry at us should perhaps first examine themselves. The parent who comes to school ready to fight the teacher for correcting their child’s misbehavior may have a case. And maybe should just be saying “thank you.”

We punish people for bad things they haven’t done, and good things they have.

In relationships, we walk out our trauma daily. We are often guilty, therefore, of punishing the people in our lives for the crimes of the people who used to be. We hurt the people who love us because of the people who left us. There’s a certain logic here. If someone stabbed you in the heart, and you have a gaping chest wound, it will probably still hurt when you someone else tries to touch it. This is the difference between a wound and a scar. A scar shows you where the wound used to be. It no longer hurts to touch. A wound does. The question is, if you still have a gaping chest wound, why are you letting new people touch your chest? Is it fair to leave the house, knowing that you’re bleeding, and walk around bleeding on everyone, not even looking to heal? And this is often a best-case scenario. The larger problem is that we surround ourselves with sympathetic friends who also are bleeding, and we flock to the books, and shows, and podcasts of people who are bleeding, and reinforce our most toxic beliefs that blame people around us for wearing white shirts, or standing too close, or asking dumb questions like “hey, are you bleeding?” And don’t let someone have the audacity to hand us a bandage or try to apply pressure. We will make them the problem in a heartbeat.

In church, when leaders tell us things we don’t want to hear, we get angry. When they don’t have enough venom for people we dislike, we get angry. When they teach on scripture that shows us where we fall short, and illuminates a path of improvement, we get angry. When they have the audacity to look past our impressive achievements, and highlight an area of concern in our souls, we get angry My question is what do we want them to do? All of those are things we should expect, even desire, of our faith leaders. Accountability, grace, and guidance should not be threatening to us. A coach who only tells you that you’re fantastic, that your opponent stinks, and that you have nothing to work on, is setting you up to get clobbered in the actual game. That’s why legends practice relentlessly – to improve. We should welcome the revelation that our fundamentals need work. It will make us better. Don’t we want to get better?

We may grieve when we get a bad diagnosis. Hopefully, we don’t shoot the messenger. If a doctor tells you your blood pressure is high, you could question their credentials. You could decry their poor bedside manner. You could leave them a bad Zocdoc review. Or you could start taking medicine and go for a walk.

In politics, our modern M.O. is to “both-sides” everything. If one of our heroes transgresses, rather than saying we disagree, rather than holding them accountable, we say, “well your guy did it, too!”

So if my guy has to pay a fine, then EVERYBODY must pay fines.

There are pros and cons to this approach.

On the one hand, it has a certain defensive strength. It allows us to stiff-arm the disingenuous critiques of those who would criticize our heroes no matter what they did. Those who give us no credit for our wins but line up to celebrate our losses are hardly fair critics. So why should they get a seat at the judges table? Even if we earn a row of perfect tens, we can count on them to give us threes.

On the other hand, it allows truly malignant presences in community to skate. It allows organizational cancers to hold astonishing tenures. Some people perform so badly they need to be fired. Some people behave so selfishly, or dishonestly, or abusively in positions that are supposed to be service-oriented, that they should be removed. Indeed, some should be unlicensed, defrocked, disbarred, disempowered, and banned for life, not transferred to another district.

Some people build whole careers of crime in the confidence that the gullible will defend them. So while we are angrily shielding our creeps, because they are ours, they are happily planning their next caper.

So today, let us not punish the innocent, or persecute the powerless just because we can.

Let us honor our leaders, as we hold them, too, accountable.

Let us make nobody’s job harder because we haven’t handled our responsibilities.

And as we work to stop our own bleeding, let us lean into the people who love us.

There are worse things we could do.

(Photo Credit: Kindel Media)

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