“I was talking to Mother. You’re not the queen yet, Atta.” – Dot from A Bug’s Life
Those of you who’ve seen the movie may remember that moment, early in the film. Princess Atta, Dot’s older sister, is training to be Queen of the ant colony when her mother “retires” (it’s a kids movie, so we pretty it up with euphemisms). Atta joins forces with the Queen to scold Dot for trying to fly to early. Dot responds with a healthy dose of “you’re not the boss of me.”
Older siblings can be quite fretful about the behaviors of their brothers and sisters. (Younger siblings can too.) Those of you with kids, or with brothers and sisters, have likely seen this play out in your own lives. Perhaps the parents aren’t around so the older sibling takes authority and mandates various behaviors – relishing the chance to finally be in charge.
We also see hints of it in their dealings with the parents when given a directive. I know that directives to my oldest son are often met with concern about what his younger brothers are to do facing the same situation. His sense of justice is violated when I ask more of him that the others, though it seems perfectly rational to me to expect more of the older and more capable child. I usually just short-circuit his concerns with a quick “you let Daddy worry about what they’re doing, you do what I told you to do.” (He definitely doesn’t like that.)
Jesus dealt with this amongst his disciples as well. We offer two scriptures that seem to fit this context. In the first, Jesus gives the disciples their proper authoritative relationship to each other. In the second, He tells Peter to mind his own business about what one of his brothers is to be doing:
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” – Matt 23:8-9.
“When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, “if it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” – John 21:21-22.
The fretfulness of Peter here reminds me a great deal of the sibling relationships I see in my own house. “But Daddy, you’ve asked me to do a great and difficult task, but I haven’t heard you ask my siblings to do anything – what gives?”
It also reminds me of how Christians tend to operate in the American political system. God has clearly given us directives on how we ought to behave with regards to the poor, the widow, the orphan. He has given us direction regarding sexual morality, financial morality, honesty, and integrity. When we find ourselves challenged anew by His call to holiness, we often flit about in desperation with cries of “but Lord, I don’t see my brothers and sisters meeting this challenge either.”
Recognizing very quickly that this is a losing argument, we then turn to make sure that our brothers and sisters are aware of the standard that they must meet – since we must. This is all fine – the Word of God is immutable. We can absolutely hold the standard of God high for all to see. We should debate even more than we do the nature of God’s law and grace, and it’s meaning for the life of the believer and its impact on society. Herein lies the difficulty of preaching – people have to choose to act on the message. They may not always, for whatever reason.
It is here that we take a downward turn. Recognizing that men are stiff-necked and rebellious creatures, and that waiting for them to hear the message and change may take a LONG time, we take the easy way out. Instead of imploring Father God to change their hearts and minds, we call on Uncle Sam. Why do the hard work of convincing the people when you can just legislate morality? Isn’t that much easier? Isn’t it easier to mandate that people give to the poor, the widow, and the orphan, than to wait on them to recognize the scripture’s call to do so? Isn’t it easier to legislate sexual behaviors than to win hearts and minds? Isn’t it easier to make greed illegal than to decry it as immoral?
“Besides,” says our goodhearted, morality-legislating friend, “Dad left me in charge.”