Like many of you, I have watched my fair share of cop shows, which has made me something of an expert on the topic of criminal investigations. With my keen eye for detail, I never fail to have no clue who committed the crime du jour. My wife, on the other hand, seems to know what’s what before the first commercial break. Anyway, despite my inability to actually piece the clues together, I have learned a lot from these made-for-tv dramas that help me in everyday life. Or, at least, I tell myself that to convince myself that Law and Order reruns aren’t a total waste of time.
One thing I have learned is that in order to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect actually committed the crime in question, the police must show motive, means, and opportunity. Motive is the reason the crime was committed. As Lieutenant Provenza of the LAPD’s Major Crimes division would say, “It’s always the husband,” because spouses always have the most motivation.
A crime always has a reason, even if that reason is random violence. So finding the motivation for the crime will help determine the suspect. Next, the police must show that the suspect had the means or the ability to commit the crime. This means that the 98 pound teenager maybe didn’t strangle his 250 pound neighbor or the woman with no hands couldn’t have shot the sheriff. Finally, they must determine the opportunity to commit the crime. Here’s where everyone’s favorite cop show word, alibi, comes into play. If the suspect can’t be placed at the scene of the crime while it was being committed, they police have failed to answer the challenge of reasonable doubt.
What does this have to do with the Lectionary readings for Sunday? I’m glad you asked. For the second week in a row, we have texts that are dealing with evangelism. Our Collect asks God to give us the grace necessary to answer the call and proclaim the Good News to all people. If we take this prayer seriously, then means and opportunity are both covered right there. That is, if we believe in the power of prayer, by praying for this grace, God has already bestowed it upon us. Those to whom we are to go and the words we are to us are already available to us. What is missing, in my experience, is the motive.
Paul recognized this very early on, exhorting the Church in Corinth to live as if Christ was coming back tomorrow. Two thousand years later, it can be hard to muster up the motivation to share the Good News. If Jesus hasn’t come back yet, what’s the rush? If I’m not going to die tomorrow, why risk it? If those to whom I am called to share the Gospel seem long for this world, why hurry? When it comes to evangelism, what really seems to be lacking is motive, and yet, what better motivation is there than having the Good News of God’s saving love to share? Why hold back when there are people who are living without the knowledge of that love? Why tarry when you can invite another to come into the joy of God’s grace?