News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 3, 2008

The Joy Lady: Ignorance of the law will be no excuse when we meet Jesus

By Verna Davis

It seems the defendant, one Mr. A. Mea Culpa, has been charged with breaking Ordinance 15694-C/14: driving too fast while under the impediment of an overly full bladder, resulting in running one red light, ignoring two stop signs, and exceeding three speed limits. Let’s listen in as he pleads his case in court.

“How do you plead, Mr. Culpa?”

“Not guilty, Your Honor.”

“Not guilty? Are you sure? A camera shows you barreling through the red light, a mother pushing her toddler in a stroller says you definitely did not stop at the stop sign, a Boy Scout swears you shot through the intersection of a street he was trying to help a little old lady cross, and you were clocked at going 30 in a 25, 50 in a 30, and 70 in a 55. What makes you think you are not guilty?” A. Mea Culpa looked at his lawyer for help. All he got was a shrug of the shoulders and a roll of the eyes. Culpa was on his own.

“Well, Your Honor, it was like this. I didn’t know the light was red. I didn’t really see it at the time. I was thinking about my bladder.”

“Your bladder?”

“Yes, Your Honor. My bladder was so full I didn’t see the traffic signal. In fact, I didn’t even know one was there. It was my first time traveling that way, you see. I was taking a short-cut, for obvious reasons.”

“Mr. Culpa, just because you didn’t see the signal does not mean the signal should have been ignored.”

“But I didn’t ignore it, Your Honor. I just didn’t see it.”

“No matter, you’re guilty of running the red light. What about the stop signs?”

“Like I said, Your Honor. It was a new route for me. I was concentrating on getting home in such a hurry – remember the too-full bladder? – and I didn’t see either the young mother or the helpful Boy Scout. So, I’m not guilty of ignoring the stop signs.”

“Is that so? At the risk of repeating myself, just because you didn’t see them doesn’t mean they didn’t apply to your situation. Now, what about the speeding? I’m really interested in hearing your defense. Don’t tell me it was because you didn’t know what the speed limit was. One was a school zone, one a commercial zone, and one an undivided highway.”

“But, how am I supposed to remember all the speed limits? Especially when I was under duress. See, my bladder …”

“Enough about your bladder, Mr. Culpa. The speed limits for school zones, commercial zones and undivided highways are the same, unless otherwise posted.”

“The same? You are allowed to drive 55 in a school zone?”

“Not the same as each other, Mr. Culpa. The same in all circumstances. School zone speed limits are the same throughout the state unless otherwise posted. The same with commercial zones and undivided highways.”

“Now how am I supposed to know that?”

“Did you study the driver’s manual before you applied for a driver’s license?”

“Well, yes, I did. But just like everybody else, I studied only what was necessary to pass the test. The minute I got my license, I guess I forgot it all. Who needs to know all those rules and regulations, anyway?”

“You do, Mr. Culpa. By the way, that’s an interesting name in one so careless regarding the laws of the land.”

“Yes, I know. My father was a Latin teacher and he had a weird sense of humor.”

“So you know that Mea Culpa is Latin for ‘my guilt,’ and it means you are guilty of something which was your own fault.”

“But, that’s just the point, Your Honor. I didn’t know I was guilty, so how could I be at fault?”

“Did your father ever teach you the Latin phrase, ‘ignorantia juris non excusat?’ It means, ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse.’ And that’s all I have to say to you, Mea Culpa. You are guilty on all counts. Case closed.”

Let us live our lives so that when we meet Jesus and present our case to him (see Romans 14:12), he won’t tell us what he told the Sadducees in Matthew 22:29: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”

Ignorance of the law will be no excuse then, either.

Verna Davis may be reached at