Immediately after the well known beatitudes, the Gospel of Matthew launches into what are know as the “Antitheses,” a series of “You have heard it said that….but I tell you….” While the name is misleading (they don’t negating parts of the law, but seemingly extend them) they imply that the law is not just to be followed for the sake of the law, but rather for the sake of relationships. It’s not enough to not murder someone, but rather to be angry with a sister or brother is the problem; it’s not enough to not commit adultery, but to treat a woman as an object is the problem; it’s not enough to not break an oath because you were told not to lie, but you should speak so that your words carry worth.
In “What I did For Love,” Robbie Brown tells the story of Justin Laboy, a high school senior and honor roll student in California. During the school year, he meets Naomi, a new student who has just moved from New York.
The two hit it off, at least according to Justin, who falls head over heals. He spends much of his time finding ways to connect, and loves being around Naomi. He even asks her to prom, though unfortunately she has to turn him down.
Justin thinks Naomi is into him, and so continues to make advances. One day, she asks him if he smokes pot. He tells her he doesn’t, but that if she wants some, he can find it for her. He starts a quest to find some, which he says takes him a long time, but eventually he gets his hands on a small amount of weed.
According to Justin, he came to school one day with the pot. After he slipped the small bag of weed into Naomi’s purse, she tries to hand him money. He refuses it at first, but she insists, taking the $25.
At some point in the year, the local police do a sweep of the school, and Justin is arrested for selling marijuana to an undercover officer. The only person he’s ever sold to is Naomi, and it’s at that point he realizes that she is, in fact a police officer.
After talking with a lawyer, Justin takes a felony plea, and was sentenced with 3 years probation.
Naomi (who, we learn is not actually named Naomi) speaks with the hosts of This American Life, and tells a different story than Justin. She had never lead Justin on, and never showed any interest. She claims it was Justin who brought up pot, and who initiated the transaction. She tells Robbie that he wasn’t reluctant at all to take the money for the weed.
There are several questions that this story brings up (not least of which relates to whose story we believe and why, but that’s another post). In relation to the AntiTheses in Matthew it reinforces the question of the purpose of the law. If the story proceeds the way Justin tells it, Naomi, a police officer, initiates Justin’s lawlessness. At least for me, the question has to be asked if Justin would have taken the risk had he not been motivated by the (false) love of Naomi.
The point of putting undercover officers in Justin’s school was to cut down on drug’s and violence. And, according to the office it worked, resulting in 80 arrests for all sorts of charges. But that doesn’t make Justin’s story any less hard to hear. Is the law really working in normal law-abiding citizens are drawn into lawlessness because of undercover law-enforcement? Maybe in the aggregate it works, cutting down on overall crime, but what about the individuals lives that are affected?
Much like the person who stays with their partner while forming inappropriate relationships within the law, or the person who doesn’t kill their neighbor but makes it as hard to live as possible, or the person who continually obscures the truth even if they’re technically not lying, the story of Justin and Naomi causes some uneasiness. In Matthew, we hear Jesus say it’s not good enough to follow the letter of the law, that there’s more at stake. If the law isn’t promoting good community, then is it really worth it?
In the case of Justin and Naomi, it’s hard to accept the enforcement of the law in this case as supporting the community. .