Settling on the Steps of the Courthouse

“When can we get together?” I asked my friend who is an attorney.

“Well,” he replied, looking at his appointment book, “we can meet on Tuesday.”

“Tuesday?” I questioned, “I thought you were going to be in court?”

“Oh no,” he responded, “The case was settled.”

“Really?” I said, “What happened?”

“We settled the case on the steps of the courthouse!”

CONSIDER how “Settling on the steps of the courthouse” is an expression used by attorneys, judges, etc. when referring to a litigation which is resolved without going to court. The two disputing parties come to an agreement they both can live with, thus avoiding what could be a lengthy, nasty, and costly court battle. Going to court, one could win or one could lose. This way there are no winners or losers. True, neither one has his or her “day in court.” There would be no exoneration or punishment, no pound of flesh exacted, just two parties working the best of a bad situation and seeking not to allow things to get worse.

Jesus said it this way: “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still on your way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into jail. I tell you the truth; you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:25-26)

As a pastor, I have seen many disputes go to “court,” that is, disputes between family members and friends taken to their costly end; and that last penny of animosity, revenge, and destruction paid. I have also heard many say, “It just wasn’t worth it!” Those first held noble causes such as, “righting a wrong” or vindication which send us feet first into the dispute, soon give way to the ugly reality of confrontation and an uncertain outcome or verdict.

What then is Jesus saying? Is He saying we are to always compromise and never take a dispute to its end? No, the cross tells us that there were things on which Jesus would not compromise. No, what He is saying, actually, what He is doing, is giving us some practical advice. If at all possible, settle disputes with others before they get out of hand. And when this is not possible, make sure you are in touch with your motives and are willing to pay the “last penny”. But again remember, it is far better to settle on the steps of the courthouse then go to court; or as Jesus advises, “settle matters quickly!”

Rev. Wendell Mettey
Revised 10/3/2013

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