"There but for the grace of God, go I" is truer than most of us are willing to admit.
The last time I had a summons for jury duty was 10 years ago. Then, I ended up serving three or four days every week for three months. It was interesting but taxing, especially when it came to juggling my responsibilities at home and at work. So, as I return to the jury selection room here in southern Louisiana to be dismissed from my civil obligation, I can't help but think about the defendant I just left behind in the courtroom.
The jury was chosen from a group of 30, after a voir dire that felt more like a civics lesson (or a formality) than anything else. "Do you understand that it's possible to convict without having a weapon in evidence?" "Do you understand that the defendant has done everything that is required of him just by showing up today?" "Does anyone here have a problem with people who stutter?" After a few minutes and a brief discussion between the judge and the attorneys at the bench, the list of jurors was called. This time, I wasn't on it. I got to go home with the assurance that I wouldn't be called again for at least two years.
Trials happen every day because crimes are committed, attempted, or alleged, every day. But courtrooms aren't the only places where judgments are made. We judge -- and are judged -- by a jury of our peers all the time. In the grocery store and at the traffic light, at work and at Sunday Mass, we watch each other and draw conclusions. And not all of them are charitable. Some aren't even true.
"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" (Mt 7:1-2). Jesus' warning is clear. We aren't performing a civic duty when we judge one another; we're filing our own cases in the divine docket. And make no mistake about it: we will be judged. At the end of our days and of all days, we will answer to God.
We'll answer for what we've done and failed to do, for hurtful words and silence when words were needed. We'll answer for the excuses we made for ourselves and the rash judgments we were quick to levy on others. Most of all, we'll be judged by the reasons we used to consider ourselves better than anyone else -- reasons to withhold forgiveness or impose penalties.
I left that defendant in the courtroom thinking about how we're all defendants in the end. Every one of us may have a list of perpetrators in our lives we'd like to see get what's coming to them, but we don't seem to understand that what we ourselves deserve might not be much different. "There but for the grace of God, go I" is truer than most of us are willing to admit.
Our bright and shining moments may be truly bright and shiny, but there have been other moments, too. None of us is a stranger to darkness or regret. And two defenses we might mount here won't carry much weight on the other side of eternity. No one will be found not guilty by reason of insanity, and no one will be off the hook because we acted in self-defense.
Lent is a time to plead guilty. It's a time to seek the mercy of God not because we've somehow earned it but because we know we haven't. It's a season to forgive everyone who has hurt us, not because they deserve it, but because we have no business withholding from another person the mercy we ourselves need. We may all be victims, but we're all perpetrators, too. We forgive not because we weren't hurt, but because it is the only way to end the hurt. We stop judging because we realize that we aren't the judge, or jury, or prosecutors, or defense attorneys. We're the accused.
Lent reminds us that everyone needs a savior and that what we need to be saved from has more to do with the choices we make than the things we suffer at the hands of others. We can't save ourselves or anyone else. Thank God he can, and does, and will.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.