Blessed are the merciful

We were running a bit late one Sunday morning. Church was at 10, and we were locking the front door at 9:51. The drive to church can take anywhere from eight to 12 minutes, depending on what mood the gods of the traffic lights are in. They were in an excellent mood this particular Sunday morning. We cruised through four lights without compressing the brake pads. I looked at my watch. Yes, we were going to make it.

Hey, what’s that? A flashing light in my rearview mirror. Better pull over and let the police pass. What? He is stopping right behind me? Oh no, it’s not a he. It’s a she. A smartly coiffed and dressed police officer approached my open side window and greeted me. She politely asked for my driver’s license. Next, she requested the insurance certificate. Next the ownership papers. I dutifully handed them all over. The officer then told me that she had clocked me at 22 kilometres over the speed limit of 50 k.p.h. She told us to wait in the car for my own safety.

I looked at Alice and we both expressed the same idea. This is one efficient cop, and she will probably throw the book at me. No small talk. Her hair and appearance spoke of professionalism. But maybe my clean record will convince her that I am a responsible driver? It’s been ages since I have been charged with a traffic violation. And one look at the left bottom of my driver’s license will tell her that I am 80 years old.

Well, it took almost 15 minutes for her to write out my ticket. Finally she emerged from the cruiser, papers in hand. “You were 22 kilometres over the speed limit,” she said, “but I have decided to lower it to 10 so you won’t lose any points and the fine will be much less.” I thanked her and said that I appreciated her gesture. I did. A $40 payment without demerit points felt like a gift from heaven.

Just in time
I slowly drove away, made dutiful stops at the next two stop signs and arrived at the church parking lot at 10:15 a.m. We were just in time for the confession of sin part of the liturgy.

My first inclination was not to include my 22 kilometres over the speed limit in my list of sins that needed cleansing that morning. After all, I had violated only a traffic rule, which is not a criminal offence, nor had I exhibited anger or greed or given in to concupiscence, which according to the Puritans is not a sin anyway as long as you don’t satisfy your sexual desire in the wrong way.

But then a niggling doubt surfaced during my prayer. Going over the speed limit, set by experts who try to estimate at which speed a street becomes unsafe for the people who live there, is putting other people at risk. And what was the reason for my excessive speed anyway? Had it anything to do with the lofty sentiment expressed in Psalm 84: “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord”? Surely not. I had sinned by speeding, no doubt about it. There is an inherent contradiction in violating any law while going to church. It’s a good thing the cop did not ask me where I was going in such a hurry. It makes for a lousy testimony of faith.

But that was not all that was flitting through my brain during confession-of-sin time. I had been feeling a bit low that morning. Something was eating away at the joy I should feel for being alive and being loved by God and many loved ones. Earlier at home I had prayed for God to lift my Spirit. And behold, he heard my prayer. He stopped me in my tracks, and gave me a slap on the wrist with a reduced ticket issued by a caring female police officer. A fine cop, come to think of it! And she had smiled at me.

I didn’t spend much time thinking of all my sins during the time of repentance in church. I felt too blessed to bother. God’s grace is wonderful, I realized. And God has such a lovely sense of humour. Yes, I am a lousy witness when I piously make my way to the house of the Lord at 72 kilometres an hour in a 50 kilometre zone. But God showed me a number of things that Sunday morning, not the least of which was that love is also the fulfilment of a traffic law!

  • Bert Witvoet is a former educator and editor of various magazines, including the Christian Courier, who lives with his wife, Alice, in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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