There’s an old story — it’s not quite a joke, really — that makes the rounds among Cumberland Presbyterians. In it, the preacher is giving a sermon on sin. A husband and wife listen as he lists various sins people in the congregation are getting involved in.
“These men with their weekend poker games,” — the wife nods her head and pokes her husband in the ribs — “smoking big cigars,” — and she nods and pokes him — “and drinking beer and whisky!” — and she nods and pokes him yet again.
But then the preacher says, “And these women dipping snuff” — and the wife declares, “Well, now the old fool’s quit preaching and gone to meddlin’!”
Now, there is something you must understand about the rural, Southern vernacular. All my life, I heard my mother’s family saying a word I thought was spelled d-r-e-c-k-l-y, as in, “Papa! When can we go look at the cows?”
“Well, dreckly, I reckon.”
This was an appropriation of the word “directly” and as my maternal relatives employed it, it meant anything other than “directly.” It meant something more like, “whenever I get around to it.”
Similarly, the term “meddlin’ ” is not merely a lazy pronunciation of “meddling.” It’s a word all its own.
When Jesus Starts Meddlin’
In Luke 13, Jesus is teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath when a woman comes up to him. She’s been bent double for 18 years and can’t straighten up at all. When Jesus sees her, he calls her over and says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
At this point, one of the usual suspects, a synagogue official — kind of like a deacon — becomes indignant because Jesus has healed on the Sabbath. The official believed it was sin to work on the Sabbath, a day of rest. So do your healing on a weekday, the synagogue official says, not on the Sabbath.
Jesus calls him a hypocrite and assumes the pragmatic role:
“If your donkey needs water, you take him to water, Sabbath or not. Well, this woman needed something a lot more important than water, so I gave it to her, Sabbath or not.”
“And as He said this,” we read in verse 17, “all His opponents were being put to shame, and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that He was doing.”
That’s all good and well of course, but there must have been some inkling in the backs of their minds: Surely it was just a matter of time before Jesus would quit preaching and go to meddlin’.
All or Nothing
Hebrews 12:18-29 reminds us not to forget who we are dealing with here. God in Christ is not some sort of technology we can switch on and off. We can’t use Jesus to get our sins forgiven and our guilt relieved, and then pretend like He’s not there all the rest of the time. Jesus isn’t like the airbags in your car that deploy to save your life in the nick of time but stay tucked away until you need them.
Remember, this is the same God who appeared in blazing fires and to the blast of a trumpet. The sound of His words is so mighty that those who heard God’s voice begged that no further word should be spoken to them. This is the same God who made the great Moses say, “I tremble with fear.”
The letter to the Hebrews warns its readers: “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking.” God gave warnings through the prophets like Jeremiah, and when people didn’t listen to those prophets, they died.
Now God is warning us through His only begotten Son, Jesus. And we must accept that warning and the offer of salvation that follows it with gratitude and awe — and just as importantly — with acceptable service. God will forgive our laziness and our failures, but God will never accept our hypocrisy as anything other than the lousiness it truly is.
God’s voice has shaken the earth before, and we delighted in it. But God’s voice will shake the earth again, and Heaven with it.
The message is clear: Without the Gospel of Jesus, God’s judgment falls upon all of us. And next time, everything that can be shaken will be shaken.
One fine day, we are part of the happy crowd, rejoicing at the healing of a crippled woman and enjoying the humiliation of a surly deacon. Then, all of a sudden, outta nowhere, Jesus quits preaching to the heathen, and starts meddlin.’ With us.