Mercy Triumphs over Judgment
“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13
A recent article in the Washington Post caught my attention. It was entitled, “Jury convicted maid for stealing. Then they paid her fine.” The story went something like this: a young, 19 year old maid stole a lady’s rings while cleaning her house. The value of the rings was about $5,000. She later, after initially denying it to the police, felt bad and admitted to the crime and returned the rings. She was charged with felony grand larceny. At the trial the jury felt that justice had to be done but also felt compassion for the young women who was also pregnant with her second child. Their solution was to put forth a guilty decision on her case, but to also take up a collection among themselves to pay for her fine. This was quite amazing and unprecedented.
The amazement here centers on the fact that they were able to maintain justice in the case and to still be merciful. In other words, although the jury sympathized with her situation, they couldn’t rightfully say that she was not guilty; they couldn’t because they knew that she was in fact guilty by her own admittance. Since she was guilty, then she had to be convicted and a price had to be paid for the crime. The mercy was shown by the jurors by paying the price for her penalty, to redeem her. The price was paid and justice was upheld.
To Christians this should sound familiar. In fact, this is the first time in my life that I have seen a real world example of the mercy and justice that has been conveyed to us through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. His death paid the penalty for our sins, much like these jurors paid the penalty for this woman’s crime. Similarly, our conviction could not have been removed, because we are in fact guilty.
Our guilt is twofold. In part we have inherited guilt from the sin of Adam and Eve which brought death to the entire human race, as well as a curse to our world. We entered into an evil, corrupt and selfish world system at birth. The second part of our guilt is our own choices of disobeying and dishonoring the God who created us and who is the source of our very life and breath and all that sustains us. Yes, our sins are a serious crime against God, in fact, they are deserving of death. We all, at some point in our lives, have disobeyed His commandments and regulations, and we have not honored Him as our creator and God, thus we all have been guilty. Yet because we have been born into this sinful situation, inheriting our condition from the fall of our original parents, and because much of our crimes of our past have been done in ignorance of God’s laws and requirements, God has been compassionate towards us, sending His Messiah to pay the penalty for us. Thus God is able to retain justice and yet be merciful to us.
We can see also that God, like the jurors, couldn’t just remove the penalty. No, the conviction had to stand firm and be applied or justice would have been perverted. In our case though, the penalty was much, much higher than in the case of the young woman thief.
“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But 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—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:1-7
Another lesson here to be absorbed is the fact that justice can coexist with mercy, and mercy doesn’t need to cause justice to be overturned. We can mistakenly use the need for justice to override the feelings of compassion and to halt the application of mercy, but this need not be, and rather should not be.
The mercy that we show towards others will affect the mercy that will be shown to us as well as the judgment that will be applied to us in the future. God is very clear about this:
“Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard.” Proverbs 12: 13
And this from the teachings of Jesus:
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” Matthew 7: 1-5
Somehow we get the idea that it is our job to fix people, to correct them and straighten them out. Many times the motive is really selfish, not wanting to have to encounter their issues because it bothers us, or may cause us some discomfort or pain. Unfortunately, most times our execution of judgment towards others either verbally or physically, does little to actually change them. Love and mercy, on the other hand, can do much to bring about a change in the inner heart of a person, where the change is really needed. It also opens the door to allow God’s Spirit to work in their hearts, softening them and their guilt. It’s much like when we love our enemies, and it is like “heaping burning coals upon their head.”
In the story about the maid, noted above, it was also mentioned that the owner of the rings was very upset and “appalled” when she learned of the actions of the jurors. It seems that although she had her rings returned and the maid was legally found guilty, she wanted more of a penalty enforced upon the woman (showing no compassion for the maid’s poverty and situation). I wonder what was motivating this wealthy woman to feel this way. Was it out of love for the maid, and a desire to really help her (maybe a tough love)? Did she think that justice was not really upheld? Or was it that she wanted revenge for being compromised? I would think it most likely that the need for revenge motivated her to feel this way, but God knows her heart and will deal with her appropriately. For us, we should be certain that revenge doesn’t motivate our actions.
Love is our ultimate goal, but the ability to love can only come when we are transformed in our inner man by the power of God. It can only come when we become spiritual with our mind and heart set on spiritual things above, rather than on the things of this world. When we love this world it equates to loving ourselves and we are then unable to love God and love others as we must.
“Make love your aim….” 1 Corinthians 14: 1
The final question that arises about the story of the maid and the compassionate jury is how the maid will react when she is offended in the future, perhaps by a crime committed against her. Will she also show compassion as was shown to her? It is obvious to us that the compassion shown to her should then cause her to also show compassion to others.
Remember that this applies to us also. As God has shown mercy to us, we also need to show mercy towards other, besides being immensely grateful to God for what He has done for us.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ‘Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.’ “ 1 Peter 2: 9-10