In the fourth season of the Andy Griffith Show, there is an episode called “Citizen’s Arrest” in which Gomer Pyle, the both physically and socially clumsy attendant of Wally’s gas station, is given a ticket by Deputy Barney Fife, everyone’s favorite stickler for the rules. The citation is for making an illegal u-turn in downtown Mayberry and is given in spite of Gomer’s protests, his appeal for mercy from Barney, and his claim on Barney for friendship.
The matter would have then been laid to rest, Gomer would have paid his two dollars, Barney would have gone back to his patrol, and Andy would have had a moment’s peace if it were not for the fact that Barney, no matter his zealousness regarding the keeping of law and order by others, excused his own culpability (responsibility for wrong, guilt) and also made an illegal u-turn (he was, as was pointed out in the show, NOT on an emergency run and therefore not supposed to be making a u-turn).
Of course he was then caught in a net of his own making. Gomer, standing haplessly by still holding the freshly written ticket that Barney had given him, witnesses Barney’s infraction and begins shouting at the top of his lungs, “Citizen’s arrest! Citizen’s arrest!”
A situation then unfolds in which a crowd gathers, Andy attempts to sort things out, and the altercation between Gomer and Barney escalates to the point that Barney not only resigns as deputy but, in refusing to pay his fine, locks himself in the “slammer” (one of the few times he did it on purpose), all in an attempt to hurt Andy who, in trying to be just, was forced to hold Barney to the same standard that Barney had held against Gomer.
I remember the episode clearly from childhood, Gomer’s loud chanting of “Citizen’s arrest! Citizen’s arrest!” making an impression upon me. It was a very funny show. It was troubling, too, to watch Barney’s pride get the better of him to the point that he very nearly seemed to have lost all ability to be reasonable and act rationally. It was painful to watch him render almost irreparable harm to his life-long friendship with Andy as well as very nearly flushing his own career down the proverbial drain.
On the one hand, this was just another one of those completely off-the-wall things that Barney did. “I’m not like him. I would never do that,” we might think. And so it seems surreal and we’re safely “better than him.” But really, the creators of his character were trying to create an overt example of what we are beneath the surface. We tend to know people that remind us of him but overlook the subtle things in ourselves that are perhaps more like him than we imagine or choose to appreciate.
As Christians we often have issues with our pride, for example. Perhaps the problem manifests itself when we feel compelled to put someone else in his or her place or when we criticize others with caustic remarks. We might even be inclined to run after someone in order to give him his ticket (a visible or audible rebuke that makes it clear that he is morally inferior to us).
But pride isn’t our only problem. We each also have other areas of ineptitude, places or things in which we can’t quite handle the job, so to speak, and need help. Some folks are clumsy with their words, some with their relationships, some with money, some with their physical well-being, and all of us when it comes to the deep truths of God (to one degree or another). I’ve no doubt that some reading this will be offended in my comparing them to Barney Fife, but know that I am applying a universal truth to each of us (myself included). No one but Jesus measures up to the standards of God. Whether in our actions, our words, our thoughts, or in the attitude of our hearts, we cannot measure up to the pure and righteous standard that holiness requires.
But this, of course, is where grace comes in. Our clumsiness is swallowed up by God’s grace when we turn to Him through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.
If you have ever seen the episode, Citizen’s Arrest, you may recall that Andy required Barney to apply the same standard to himself as he did to Gomer, but then Andy offered to pay his fine himself out of his own pocket. Andy knew he had to be just, but his desire for ongoing friendship with Barney compelled him to make a sacrifice in order to preserve and perfect that friendship.
What was the one thing standing in Barney’s way though? It was that recurring pride of his. His pride not only refused the gift of grace his friend offered, but deliberately chose instead the alternatives of punishment, the loss of his livelihood, the harvest of humiliation that his choices brought to him, and the ending of his long friendship with Andy.
Was Barney technically in the wrong for giving Gomer the ticket? Nope. We might sympathize with Gomer who felt somewhat hurt for getting a ticket from his friend, but Barney was just in giving it and in doing so was fulfilling the responsibility given to him in being an agent for peace and law and order for Mayberry. What was unjust however was his attitude of moral superiority and his notion that the same rules did not apply to him.
By the way, God DOES allow u-turns. In fact, He loves it when we turn from our pride, our selfish ambitions, and our sin and begin walking with Him. “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?” (Ezekiel 33:11 ESV).
And, once we have made that u-turn and begin walking with Him in the direction of His will for our lives, we do not become like Barney with his ever-ready ticket book and wailing siren, but live humbly in the forgiveness offered us through God’s sacrifice in His Son. Through faith in Jesus we are empowered to become messengers of grace, ready not to give tickets but words of hope and warning to those who also need to turn… turn to God’s grace and be made new!
Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 22 years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.