Matthew 5:21-26, Genesis 4:1-16, Exodus 20:13, Psalm 14:1-3, Mark 11:23-25, James 2:8-13, 3:3-6
It’s an old Polish proverb that has resurfaced recently in our culture, gracing everything from coffee mugs to t-shirts. Essentially it means “not my problem,” but the Polish are a bit more memorable with their phrasing:
“Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
In its purest sense the proverb is a reminder that we cannot solve everyone else’s problems, and it’s often wise to walk away if we don’t have skin in the game. But most proverbs don’t stay pure very long in our fallen fingers. We quickly twist them to our own ends. The impure version allows us to use that phrase in the spirit of Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper? Nope, not my circus…” And we walk away from people that, truth be told, we simply don’t want to deal with.
There’s a world of difference between trying to solve everyone’s problems and avoiding our response-abilities as believers. The latter is one of the truths that pulses in today’s texts, that as tempting as it may be, you and I cannot walk away from brothers or sisters who have something against us. Don’t miss that distinction—it is not that we have something against them, but they have something against us. That detail makes it so easy to lean in the distorted direction of “not my monkeys” because we feel justified in distancing ourselves from that person: “Well, that’s their problem.” Actually, as Christians, it’s our problem, and we are always to take the initiative.
For example, let’s say you’re about to drop your money in Sunday’s offering plate, and in your mind’s eye you suddenly see the face of a friend who is at odds with you. For such thorny situations Jesus doesn’t give us a proverb as much as a prod.
“…leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-34).
Wowzers. That sounds rather extreme, doesn’t it? And it would be if this were nothing more than a circus full of monkeys. But it’s not. The language in these texts is that of family—“brother” and “sister.” So our proverb sounds something like this:
“You’re my family. You’re my brother.”
And with that we make the first move.
Written by John Blase