One of the overlooked stories in the tale of the Exodus from Egypt is a little family incident that happened while the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, pays a visit and finds Moses seated and hearing disputes. Jethro asks what he's doing, and Moses explains he hears disputes between the people and lets them know what God's statutes say.
"What you are doing is not
good," Jethro says, and I leave it up to those with fathers-in-law to
decide how much the Bible edited his actual comment. "You will wear
yourself out, and the people too." He suggests creating a system of
judges for the unimportant cases so that only the biggest deals get
brought to Moses as well as teaching the people what God's statutes are
so they can decide for themselves sometimes.
a lot of upsides to Moses' system. It was consistent: Only one judge,
so no different interpretations of the law. It had a single standard.
Moses also had authority. As the recognized leader of the people, he had
been in charge when they left Egypt and had been seen to be chosen by
God for the work. People trusted his judgments would be fair and
represent God's direction, so they would abide by them. But there was
also a downside: It wouldn't work. There was no way one person could
judge every dispute among a group of people this size. Once Moses
spent all his time deciding cases, he couldn't lead the people, and the
people waiting to have their cases heard couldn't work while they
One of the reasons our modern lives have so
much hurry in them is how many times we say "Yes" to things and squeeze
our schedules even tighter to give them all space. We might say that if
we just said "Yes" to the important things we could ease things up, but
the truth is a lot of us already only say "Yes" to the good and
important things. We don't really waste time -- because to be honest, we
don't have any time to waste in between all of the good and important
things we have scheduled. That may make us feel a little better but it
doesn't ease things up when it comes to hurrying.
church can be one of the worst offenders in asking for our time, because
most of the things we're asked to or that we volunteer to do are good
things and things that need doing. So we don't really lay anything down
that we're doing already but just add something new, and get ourselves
Which means that when the time comes that we
have something we might want to do or need to do, something that's an
emergency, we don't have the time for it. The story of the Good
Samaritan can be seen that way, if you want to look at it in that light.
Jesus doesn't tell us why the priest and the Levite pass by the injured
man, but I heard a sermon once that suggested we could think of our own
reasons if we like and one of those might be that the two men were just
too busy. They were on their way to important appointments and they
didn't have the time to waste on an injured man -- who, after all, might
have been a lure to get them robbed or who might have been trying some
kind of scam or whatnot.
No one is really too busy to help someone injured like
that, but it's easy if we've fallen into the hurrying mindset to talk
ourselves into the belief that we are. And even if we wouldn't pass by
such a great need, always being in a hurry means we might very well pass
by one not so obvious but just as important.
The issue is not whether we say "Yes" to everything -- we will
say "No" to some things no matter what. The issue is whether or not we
will say "No" of our own choosing or because our schedules force us to,
and whether or not we will say "Yes" to so much we don't do anything
We may believe we need to do those things to feel good, or that
if we don't do them then no one will and they won't get done. Moses
probably had some of those same feelings, and I won't speak for whatever
you do outside of your church arena, but inside the church I can say
that if it's something no one wants to do, then it's something that
doesn't need doing. If I become convinced that it would all fall apart
without me, then that may be a sign that it's time for it to fall apart.
Because in the end we need to remember what Jethro also told
Moses, which was that if God was with him, then the system he set up
would work. Because God is at the root of what he was supposed to do and
what we are supposed to be doing, and if we rely upon ourselves instead
of God, then "what [we] are doing is not good."