According to the teacher, the word was “prophesy.” We were coming to the end of the sixth-grade spelling bee, and that was my word. I spelled it correctly, but was told that I got it wrong. I knew I hadn’t, but I sat down because that’s what I was told to do. The next person up spelled it, “prophecy” and got it “right.” I was a little upset. The difference is in pronunciation. The verb, prophesy, is pronounced with a long “i” sound at the end. The noun, prophecy, is pronounced like a long “e.” As soon as the contest ended, I challenged the judges over the incorrect pronunciation of the word. While they admitted that I was right, they told me it was too late to bring a challenge because the bee was over. That’s when I learned a hard lesson about legalism: The rules aren’t always about being fair; sometimes they’re just about the rules.
That is to say, sometimes laws are made not to preserve justice, but only to preserve order. Such order often comes at the cost of justice. Jesus was upset with the Pharisees who wanted to find fault with him for healing on the Sabbath because he broke their man-made rules. “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath,” he said, “wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep!” Sometimes, mercy and justice are more important than rules.
That’s something to think about.