Good Friday is approaching, and one of the aspects of the Passion that continually grabs my attention is the fact that Jesus was falsely accused. He was made a victim of the political machine and individual ambition. Never before has a more innocent victim been wrongly condemned. And yet Jesus submitted to and endured the torture of his Passion. He knew his own innocence better than anyone else, but he did not fight back.
I confess that I do not know what this was like for Jesus, but I had the opportunity to identify, just a bit, with Jesus in his false accusation a couple of years ago. I must also confess that I did not handle the situation as perfectly as Jesus did. The frustration was overwhelming, and I did not even have to submit to the punishment since I was found not guilty. Jesus was put to death falsely for blasphemy; I got out of a wrongly-issued parking ticket.
Two years ago I arrived home to find a letter from a Central New Jersey town, more than an hour away from me, declaring that, since my parking ticket had not been paid on time, the fee was increased. If I wanted to contest the ticket, I would have to show up in court on the assigned date. This was interesting because I could not remember the last time I was in that town, or if I had ever been there at all. I certainly had never received a parking ticket from them. I thought it was a scam at first, but on further investigation I realized it was real.
I wrote a letter. I called. I consulted lawyer friends. By a miracle almost as great as the Incarnation, my lawyer friends did not charge me for picking their brains about this case. I looked into the possibilities as to why I may have received this ticket. I wracked my brain as to how I could prove my innocence. I expressed my frustration to family and friends.
I could have just paid the fee and been done with it, but the simple fact was that I had not parked illegally in that town at the time and place they specified — or ever! I decided to show up in court and fight it. At the very least, the car in their description was the wrong color. My car was black, they said it was blue. Surely that would prove my innocence.
After waiting a couple of hours, I was called in to talk to the prosecutor. I laid out my case. Apart from my own testimony (which, it turns out, has almost no weight), the car color was my best argument. It turned out that the ticket is automatically generated from the DMV, and the code “BL” could mean blue or black. I would have to wait for the officer who issued the ticket to arrive at court and testify.
I was beginning to doubt my own sanity. Maybe I had multiple personalities and my other self really had driven down to that town and parked illegally. I would not have been surprised if Rod Serling showed up in the corner of the courtroom, smoking a cigarette, and entering into his introductory remarks. “Matt D’Antuono thought his one-hour drive down the parkway took him to another town in New Jersey, when it really brought him to... the Twilight Zone.” (I realize many people probably think New Jersey is the Twilight Zone, but that is a subject for another blog.)
When the officer showed up, he said that he issues hundreds of tickets, and there is no way he could say for sure it was my car. So, the plea of “not guilty” would prevail. But he went on to say, “One way or another, the machine on my patrol car detected your car on that day.” I so wanted to tell him that he and his machine were wrong and that my car and I had never been there, but I held my tongue. I was getting what I wanted and I didn’t want to ruin it.
The prosecutor called me in and explained why I was being freed of the penalty, but then added, “I hope you know what you did wrong, and I hope you won’t do it again.” Boiling though my insides may have been, I gritted my teeth and nodded.
A parking ticket. Just a fee. And I was let off. Jesus was tortured to death. I am not perfect. Jesus never did anything wrong. My experience was only a small taste of what Jesus endured. Unfortunately, I was not aware of the possibility of uniting my suffering with Christ and offering it up at the time. Wrongful accusation is an opportunity to identify with Jesus and encounter him in a unique way. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for the truth if we are brought to trial — sometimes there is nothing we can do. The Cross of Christ is the only thing we can hang on to. As alone as we may feel, Jesus has been there.