Where Sat Sister Bertha Better than You

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite.  The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.”  He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests.  It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

  • Deuteronomy 17:14-20

“All the way down to the amen pew
Where sat Sister Bertha better-than-you
Who’d been watchin’ all the commotion with sadistic glee
But you should’ve seen the look in her eyes
When that squirrel jumped her garters and crossed her thighs
She jumped to her feet and said “Lord have mercy on me”
As the squirrel made laps inside her dress
She began to cry and then to confess to sins that would make a sailor blush with shame
She told of gossip and church dissension but the thing that got the most attention
Was when she talked about her love life
And then she started naming names!

The day the squirrel went berserk
In the First Self-Righteous Church
In that sleepy little town of Pascagoula (Pascagoula)
It was a fight for survival
That broke out in revival
They were jumpin’ pews and shouting Hallelujah! (Hallelujah)”

  • Ray Stevens, The Mississippi Squirrel Revival (part of the second verse)

For the full song, please watch the following video. But for all my friends in the Pascagoula, MS area, remember that the denomination of Self-Righteous Churches is widespread. You just have a rhythmic and mellifluous name.

I felt compelled to mention Sister Bertha Better-than-you.  She has been on my mind in numerous conversations lately.

Have you ever felt better than someone else?  The Scripture above from Deuteronomy warned any future king of Israel to not think himself better, but don’t we all do that to an extent?  Or maybe we are the lowest of lows, and everybody else is better – which is no way to be either.

People move to better neighborhoods, if they can afford it.  Yes, I know that it is a good idea to move where there is less crime, better schools, better neighbors…  Oops, I used “better” a couple of times there.  How are we to judge?  What are we to judge?  Who are we to judge?

I remember one town where we lived.  The newspaper headline was that a drug ring had been discovered and the criminals arrested.  The small print said that the leader was the Sheriff’s son and the aristocratic teen-agers in town were his workers.  They were bored, and, as any good self-starter with available cash, they decided to do something with their free time.  I have more stories like that one, but that paints the picture of the ‘better’ neighborhood.

My wife and I always wanted to live in a ‘better’ neighborhood, but we stayed where we could afford to live.  All the other engineers lived in the ‘better’ neighborhoods, even those that were much younger. We learned as we lived in the ‘other’ neighborhoods that the blue-collar workers were good people, trying to do good for themselves, trying to help others in their community.  The wives of the doctors, lawyers, and engineers rarely volunteered for the local charities.  It cut into their social schedule.  Maybe these days, with volunteerism obtaining cult status, it might be different.  Yet, in the poorer neighborhoods, people were less worried about status and more worried that their neighbor needed a little help.

We have a neighbor who mows our lawn.  My wife gives him little gifts in return.  He doesn’t need the gifts, but we are infirmed and he needs the exercise.  If we lived in a ‘better’ neighborhood, we’d have to pay someone to mow the lawn, more than we could ever afford to pay.

But where do we often see the “Better-than-you” clan?  Family and school reunions were built for such people.  You may be dirt poor, but you scrape up enough money to show up to the function in a rented luxury car.  Just to impress.  During the preparations for a wedding, each family is sizing up the family of the intended spouse.  Are they worthy of the relative on our side of this union?

In Mark 2:17, Jesus says that the healthy do not need a doctor.  Maybe, if you are a member of the “Better-than-you” clan, you might not need God.

No.  You need God.  But you might think that you do not.  If you don’t think that you need God, come back when you are broken.  God is patient.  He is waiting for you to realize that you are not better than anyone.  We are all sinners.  We are either saved by Grace or in need of God’s Grace.  Are you willing to ask Jesus into your heart?

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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