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Recently I opened a jury duty summons for one of our local courts. My report date hasn’t arrived quite yet, but I’m looking forward to the possibility of serving. I’ve only been empanelled once and it was a nightmare; I’m hoping for a better experience this time. The accused was clearly guilty; everyone identified him as the culprit (it was a robbery and stabbing), there were multiple witnesses, and the case was solid from start to finish. The accused even admitted that he had done it, but he claimed, with a straight face, to have stabbed the guy “accidentally” four, count ‘em, four times: once in the chest and three times in the back after he flipped the victim over. He threw the icepick (he claimed it was a meat thermometer) into a river, he said, while fleeing to another state because he was afraid that he would be charged with a crime.

Incredibly, we ended with a hung jury because one of my fellow jurors kept saying, “Who am I to judge this man?” It was a case of eleven angry men and women and one owner of a half-baked hermeneutical approach to Scripture, in this case Matthew 7:1-3, which she had denuded over and over in a refrain of its first two words: “Judge not.”

If we take that verse out of context, not only from Matthew 7 but from the broad panorama of Scripture, we then are left with a kind of soft anarchism that leaves all possibility of justice from the earth, expecting God to act as a legal deus ex machine whose failure to intervene in the smallest instances of justice leave us paralyzed to act. If there is no justice, no consistent, measured kind of justice, in this life, then how can we have any hope of knowing justice in this world? Instead of passing the buck to some sort of moral deism, the point of the passage is that justice begins in our relationship with God: we are called to judge ourselves first according to God’s standards, and to act on God’s behalf out of a sense of holy humility and righteous integrity that expresses itself in concern for the oppressed, no matter who they may be.

This is particularly important to the form of government that we enjoy in our nation. If I were on trial, I would find hope and comfort if I could be assured that the judge and jurors would base their deliberations out of a sense of prayer, fairness, and adherence to the highest standards of the law. If I were a victim, I would find the same kind of comfort in such knowledge. I hope that I can be that kind of juror when I am called upon.

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