Jim Harnish

Thoughts From the Jury Box

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In the Jury Box 

I’ve been called for jury duty before, but this was the first time I was chosen to serve. It always reminded me of Jesus saying, “Many are called but few are chosen.”  (Matthew 22:14)  I was reeking with patriotism when I took my place in the jury box.

The experience reminded me of the critical importance of our system of justice and of how dangerous it is for our President to disparage or attempt to discredit it.  With its imperfections, it’s still our best hope for living toward the promise of “liberty and justice for all.” I’ve often said that I don’t tell mother-in-law jokes because I had such a great one and I don’t tell attorney jokes because I know so many good ones.  The only people I can make fun of are preachers!

The Judge was relentless in reminding the jury that the only thing we could consider was the evidence as presented in the trial in light of the specific laws that applied to the case.  It meant that if I was to fulfill my duty, I had to lay aside some of my pastoral instincts and deal only with the evidence and the law.

The Quality of Mercy 

Driving to and from the Courthouse, however, I remembered Shakespeare’s lines about mercy and justice in “The Merchant of Venice.”  You can hear Laura Carmichael (Edith on “Downton Abby”) recite Portia’s speech here.  I encourage you to take time to read and reflect on Portia’s words.

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown…
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

Shakespeare knew the Bible.  He had read Paul’s words to the Ephesians:

God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” (Ephesians 3:4-5)  

Portia’s speech was Shakespeare’s application of the epistle of James:

“Judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”  (James 2:13)

The play demonstrated what Jesus was talking about when he said:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

Lent is a perfect time to remember that justice is getting what we deserve; mercy is receiving what we need. The mercy we receive is in equal measure to the mercy we give.

I’m grateful for blindfolded Lady Justice holding the scales in her hand, but I’m even more grateful for the clear-eyed gaze of God’s love and grace that sees the justice I deserve, but offers me the undesired mercy I so desperately need.  The hymn writer got it right who wrote:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

During this Lenten season, may we pray for mercy, and may we render deeds of mercy equal to the mercy we receive.

Grace and peace,

Jim

 

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