Guilty but Free
I opened the envelope of the dreaded jury duty notice and felt inconvenienced and annoyed. After all, as a father of four home-schooled daughters, pastor of a local church, husband to one wife and director of an ongoing community relief ministry, I’m not exactly looking for more things to do or inviting any break in my planned routines. Nevertheless, I showed up to the anonymous residents pool to be herded into the civic coral and await instructions in what promised to be a long, long day.
Amidst the small talk, quick glances and cursory social nodding, I began to look around and wonder exactly who all these people really are. I thought, “He looks a lot like my old next door neighbor” and “Man, he’s got to be construction supervisor or something.” “How many children does she have? What kind of job does he go to? And just exactly how many cups of coffee is that guy going to drink before he explodes?”
As the jury panels were selected and we went into our courtroom assignments for questioning and purging, I was reminded about the age-old themes of justice, guilt, mercy and shame. As the judge and attorneys picked each of us apart, pieces of our lives began to be put into public view. He’s really a divorced engineer, not my old neighbor. She has three children, one of whom is in jail. And Mr. Coffee is really John, a restaurant owner in Covington with a not-so-pretty background.
Each of us has a past filled with regret and guilt, and here we are sitting in potential judgment of another man for a crime that, apart from the grace of God, we, too, could have committed. The weight of our task slipped in like a liquid anvil slowly pressing me deeply into my seat. We all love mercy when it is applied to our mistakes and failings, but far too often we tend to love justice only when it is time for someone else to be judged. No one’s crimes ever seem as bad as the ones committed against us by others, yet we bear the same guilt and deserve the same sentence. No man can live perfectly, and as a result he will receive his just due before a holy and righteous God who is our final Judge. But thankfully He is also our Savior and merciful Redeemer, who calls us to turn from our rebellious ways and to put our faith in Christ for the forgiveness of our crimes.
As I sat and heard more and more about my fellow jurors, I was mindful that I have not always lived rightly before God as I should have. However, I have received the mercy of God through faith and wanted the same reprieve and freedom for my fellow panel members. I began to pray to that end.
And what about the trial? The defendant plea-bargained his way out of a mandatory five-year sentence for illegal drugs and weapons possession. If he were actually found guilty and convicted, then justice would have been done and he would have gotten what he deserved. Instead he received partial punishment via fines and confiscation and parole. I pray we all learn to love mercy as much as justice and understand that God alone decides which one we shall receive.