For the last few weeks I’ve been introducing my children to The Andy Griffith Show. The classic show is particularly special to me because it was on in my childhood home about every night. I grew up in Winston-Salem, NC, which is not far from the fictional town of Mayberry, based on the real town that Andy Griffith grew up in, Mt. Airy.

We recently finished up the second season and in the final episode, grace and law were on full display in a profound and touching way. For those not familiar with the show, Andy Taylor is the town sheriff and his best friend Barney Fife the deputy. In this particular episode we are treated to the side character of Otis Campbell, the town drunk.

On a typical Friday night in Mayberry Otis comes strolling into the sheriff’s office after tying one on and lets himself into a jail cell to sleep it off. When Andy and Barney arrive and wake up Otis from his stupor, boy is he hungover! Barney begins sorting through the mail and finds a letter mailed to Otis sent to the sheriff’s address. Other than the fact that Otis does spend a night or two in the cell on his own volition, he should not be receiving mail there.

We find out that Otis has been mailing letters to his family on the sheriff’s letterhead giving his family the impression that he in fact works there. The letter Barney finds was sent by Otis’s brother and sister-in-law, informing him that they’ re coming to visit and expect to see a respectable lawman and not a town drunk! Could this be the 1960’s version of drunk texting?

Back to the point. Barney, who represents the Law in this episode, aggressively accuses Otis of impersonating a police officer. Otis tells Barney and Andy that he has always been the black sheep of the family, and “it felt good changing colors.” Andy then comes up with a unique plan. He’s going to give Otis a job.

Barney: Are you kidding. You mean you are you actually going to give Otis a job here?

Andy: Well it’s just temporary

Barney: Well, what kind of a job can you give to Otis? Well, he’s irresponsible, he’s careless, he’s unreliable.

Andy: I’ll make him a deputy.

Barney: Deputy?! You can’t do that Andy you just can’t do that.

Andy: A sheriff has a right to deputize anybody in the case of an emergency, and for Otis I’d say this is an emergency.

Imputed righteousness! But it gets better. Barney just can’t fathom how a town drunk could so easily be made a deputy. (At times, I can’t understand how in the world Jesus can make someone like me righteous!) Barney is utterly scandalized.

Barney: Do you mean you are actually going to make Otis a deputy!? The town drunk you’re making him a deputy!

Andy: Well as sheriff it’s my duty to help out the good citizens of Mayberry.

Barney: Good Citizens. Otis?!

Andy: Well, Otis ain’t a bad fella. He’s one’a the nicest fellas I know, always willin’ to help out a neighbor, generous, and, for his drinkin’, we don’t lock him up ’cause he’s botherin’ anybody. It’s so’s he won’t hurt himself. In a way, that drinkin’ does a good service for the town. Otis laps it up so fast, the other folks can’t get to it.

Barney: A hungover deputy.

In comes Otis clean shaven with his new uniform on, and much to Barney’s chagrin, Andy proceeds to swear him in.

Andy: Now raise your right hand. Do you, Otis Campbell solemnly swear to uphold the duties of your office and conduct yourself in a manner that will do credit to the Mayberry sheriff’s office?

Otis: I do.

Andy: Good. That’s all there is to it. Now you’re a full fledged deputy and you can honestly tell your family that you work here.

Otis: Gosh I’ve been coming here a long time Andy, but I never figured there was a chance for advancement. I sure appreciate what you’re doing.

Andy has given Otis a new uniform–one that signifies scrupulous law-abiding–and calls him something he in fact is not. Likewise, Jesus clothes us in righteousness itself, and calls us something we are not. Inwardly, we know we do not deserve this treatment, but in the mind of God we are reckoned righteous. And to Andy, that’s all there is to it.

Enter religion and the law, I mean Barney.

Barney: Andy, as long as we are going through with this do you mind if i take over now there’s a little something you left out of that swearin’ in ceremony?

Andy: Well I don’t think I left out…

Barney: If you don’t mind. Alright Otis repeat after me. I will be alert at all times.

Otis: I will be alert at all times.

Barney: I will try to look like a deputy and act like a deputy.

Otis: I will try to look like a deputy and act like a deputy.

Barney: I will at no time while wearing the uniform, take a drink.

Otis: I will try to look like a deputy and act like a deputy.

Barney: Otis, I said “I will at no time…”.

Otis: No, don’t help me. It just comes kind of hard. I will at no time while wearing the uniform, take a drink.

Does this sound familiar to you? It sure does to me. So often, grace has scarcely been proclaimed before the law comes in and tries to instruct the wrongdoer on how we should now be morally reformed to the standards of righteousness. Yet that’s the thing about sinners: we don’t “do” righteousness, and no manner of rule keeping will get us there. Instead, we are made righteous–and called thus–by the virtue of another.

Paul Zahl writes in Grace in Practice:

“Grace imputes. Grace sees the image of God in men and women when the reality is the twisted image of fallen people implicated in original sin, people who have unsavory associations in the form of total depravity and are prevented by their un-free will from helping themselves. Graces looks on all that failure and imputes. To impute means to ascribe qualities to someone that are not there intrinsically, to regard somebody as a person that he or she is not. Imputation calls bad things by a good name, and this is what grace does.”

He clothes us in righteousness. Friends, I don’t care where you fall short or what the Barneys of this world insinuate–on account of Christ, you are in fact righteous. That’s all there is to it.