a lesson we haven’t learned

Obion County, Tennessee does not have a fire department. They have a deal with the city of South Fulton. People in the rural areas pay $75.00 and the fire department of South Fulton covers the area.

On September 29, 2010, Gene Cranick’s grandson was burning some trash too close the family home. Tragically, the house caught fire. The Cranicks quickly called 911.

And the South Fulton FD would not respond. The Cranicks had not paid their $75 fee. They weren’t on the list. Cranick offered to pay whatever the cost might be to put the fire out. Still, they would not come.

When they did show up, it was only to keep the fire from spreading to other homes while Cranick’s house burned to the ground.

What is more amazing than the firefighter’s inaction is the fact that some city officials have tried to defend their actions.

South Fulton city manager said, “We have to follow the rules and the ordinances set forth to us, and that’s exactly what we do.”

Even worse, some commentators said that this was necessary to keep people from “sponging off” the system.

I suppose if we went with pure rationality, maybe it does make some sense. After all, if people don’t pay, they have broken the fundamental agreement between the city and the county. Rules are rules. If the fire department will serve everyone, even those who do not pay, then why would anyone pay? The rules of society have to mean something.

Then I think of the life that was burning down in John 8. A woman was caught in adultery. The penalty was stoning to death. That was the rule. So, they brought her to Jesus and said, ‘The law says death to such a woman. What do you say?’

Jesus says, ‘The one without sin should throw the first stone.’

And slowly, they all walked away.

Now Jesus stands before her. Everyone else is gone. There is only one left who can throw a stone.

‘Does no one condemn you?’

‘No one Lord.’

‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.’

Rules are never meant to be divorced from real life. Rules matter, but so do people. It is something we ought to remember because we all need grace.

Unfortunately, this is a lesson we aren’t learning. As Peggy Noonan once said, ‘As we have become more open-minded as a society, we have become more hard-hearted.’

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