Many years ago I had a job giving out parking tickets. Part of my route involved giving out tickets in two-hour-parking areas. One day I was ticketing a car I had ticketed a couple of times before. It was regularly parked outside a particular office. When I gave a ticket the last thing I put on the form was the license plate number. That way, if the person came out before the ticket was completed they could move their car without paying the two-dollar penalty. I was a nice guy. On this particular occasion I had finished writing the ticket, including the license plate number, and was putting it under the windshield wiper. The owner of the car came storming out of her office and rudely asked me not to give her a ticket and she would move the car. I politely explained that once I had completed writing the ticket I was not allowed to take it back; if she had come out even a minute earlier I could have let her move the car. I further explained that she was clearly in violation, and even if she had come out earlier I was within my rights to give her the ticket. She angrily said, “You know, I think you get a buzz out of doing this. I bet you would ticket your own grandmother.” I calmly replied, “No, ma’am. My grandmother doesn’t drive. But I have ticketed my father five times.” At that, she snatched the ticket from her windshield, stormed back into her office, and I never had to give her a ticket again.
This is one of my favorite stories about things that have happened while I was working. Maybe it is because I am surprised at how professionally I kept my demeanor throughout the incident. Probably it is because it was truly funny as it was happening. Nevertheless, there are some lessons we can learn from this incident.
One such lesson is that people may transfer their anger at themselves to some other person who is close at hand. That is why some bars in old western movies show a sign saying, “Please don’t shoot the piano player.” People who know they have overparked take it out on the parking attendant. In the same way, people who know they have sin in their lives sometimes take things out on the one who points out their sin. It is an occupational hazard for preachers. Jesus knew that this would happen. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” (Matt 5:11) Perhaps this is how we are to judge the world (1 Cor 6:2). The world sees our righteousness, and their consciences are so moved that they try to vilify us instead of emulate us.
A second lesson is that people sometimes make assumptions that may or may not be true, but they often don’t want those assumptions verified. This person attributed an action that, if it had been possible, was probably true. But verifying it only exacerbated the problem. As we teach others about God, we need to avoid making these assumptions ourselves. Do we judge that a given person will not respond? Do we think someone is not worth teaching? We may find that a person will not respond to our teaching, but we are still under obligation to teach. “The Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8) James condemns those who make judgements based on assumptions of wealth or poverty. “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.” (Jas 2:1, read the whole context.)
A third lesson from this story may be that there is a time for repentance, and a time when repentance is no longer possible. Had this lady decided to move her car a few seconds earlier she would not have had to pay the fine. The merciful parking attendant (me) gave her ample chance to make good her violation. My God is more merciful than I am. And yet, even he sets limits on his mercy. “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained.” (Acts 17:30-31) “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor 6:2)