Exactly one year ago, on May 20, 2016, I was visiting a church member in Westwood. I drove up behind a city utility truck noting the sign just ahead that restricted parking to two hours Mon-Fri. It was a Friday, so I got out and walked up the steps to the keypad where I was about to dial the number of the apartment. That’s when I casually looked back at my car, and did a double take. A parking officer was placing a ticket on my window! I walked down to the car, trying to look calm. I smiled, sort of, “Excuse me, could you tell me why you are writing me a parking ticket?” “This is a restricted parking area,” she said. “Friday is street-cleaning day.” “Really? Where is the posted sign?” “Right there.” She pointed at the sign 20 feet in front of my car. I walked over to the 2 hour parking sign, which was actually inside the canopy of a magnolia tree and there, above that sign was another sign that said, “No Parking Fridays – Street Cleaning”! I honestly did not see the sign, I said. It was completely hidden inside the tree! “I’m sorry,” she intoned, “once the ticket is written….” That was it, I guess. No hope of escaping what turned out to be a $75 ticket! Just in case, I decided to take some photographs…for my historical records (see below).
When I went online to pay my fine, I saw an opportunity to dispute the ticket. So, I related my sad story to whoever might be reviewing the evidence, and submitted a photograph to substantiate the claim. Months went by and I heard nothing. I felt certain I would have to pay the fine. Then, at the end of January of this year, eight months later, I received a letter from the City of Los Angeles. I cautiously opened it, to learn my fate:
“Thank you for your inquiry concerning the citation(s) listed below. Our review has concluded that the supporting document you submitted has substantiated your claim. Therefore, your citation(s) is/are being permanently dismissed. No further action on your part is required.” -- Parking Violations Bureau.
I leapt out of my chair! Citation permanently dismissed? No further action required? My faith in the justice system was restored…but why did I still feel a little uneasy?
Perhaps it is because while I felt exonerated for something I knew wasn’t my fault; there have been times when I’ve needed a friendly reminder to drive safely. Once, on my way back from a church retreat, I was pulled over by a highway patrol officer on the 101 Freeway for speeding. The officer noted that my license plate frame in those days said “Steve-o, Steverino, the Stevemeister. Pastor Steve.” That was a gift from my youth group, an allusion to an old “copy machine guy” skit on SNL. He told me he liked my license plate frame, smiled, and then he gave me the ticket. The irony is that I was returning to preach a sermon entitled, “Spinning my wheels for the Lord.” It was all about slowing down with God in a hectic, driven culture! I must admit, I did get what I deserved…
Legal justice is defined as “the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” It means getting what we deserve, and not getting what we don’t deserve. The gospel, however, is not about getting our just rewards or punishments. It is of course about grace. It’s about receiving the unmerited forgiveness and mercy of God in Jesus Christ. Karl Barth put it this way, “The Judge who alone is just, took upon himself our judgment, when he was willingly judged in our place.” And, Barth adds, “He did it justly.” That is, it was righteous, intended for the good of humankind and God’s glory. You and I don’t need to dread the mailbox, or the guilty verdict, because we have already been pronounced both guilty and forgiven, messy and worthy of mercy, our sins permanently dismissed because we have been permanently loved (Romans 8:39). Hope to see you soon…