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Jury of Our Peers

I have to appear at the courthouse Monday morning at 8:30 for jury duty. It’s the first time I haven’t had a legitimate excuse for not serving. So, I am somewhat interested in going through the process. I have long heard people complain when they are summoned, and have wondered why. Some of the reasons make some sense—it is an interruption of daily life for an unknown period of time, potentially unpaid time off of work with a pittance for compensation, etc. As I talked to some folks who have served, other reasons come up—a fear of reprisal by the defendant if it is a particularly nasty case and the weight of responsibility of deciding another human being's fate.

The first set is normal frustration with interruption in our lives, and not really worth a lot of comment—if the interruption isn’t jury duty, it might be a busted pipe, broken car, illness, etc.

The second set is more weighty. There are some truly evil folks in this world, and most to some degree resent being caught and may seek retribution on the jury. Fortunately, this seems to be a rare occurrence, happening more on TV and in the movies than in real life.

But what of the last reason—we are charged with the responsibility of deciding whether a human being is guilty. Sometimes, it seems, it can be based less on facts than the quality of the courtroom performance by the attorneys, which adds another whole dimension to it. We are given the authority to decide someone’s guilt or innocence, and if guilty, how to punish them. The defendant isn’t the only life we impact. There is the impact on the victim(s) of the crime. If we decide wrong, how will their lives be affected?

As a faculty member, I am somewhat used to judging the performance of others, my students, and some of those decisions do have lasting impact in their lives—if this student fails my class and doesn’t get into med school, whose lives may be affected for better or worse by that person not becoming a doctor? We can’t let ourselves get wrapped up in that or we’ll lose our effectiveness.

Yet the issue remains—we are called as citizens to judge but Christ says not to judge because the standards by which we judge others are the ones used for us. Even David, when he sinned in conducting the census, pleaded for God to judge him and not man, because of God’s mercy and true knowledge of justice.  It IS a weighty matter to be a decider of fate that we should treat somberly. At the same time, God put us on the Earth to be stewards—to rule with justice and mercy, so there is a place for it biblically. But let us judge appropriately—at the right times, with the right humility, and for the right reasons, and in a right fear of the God to whom we are accountable for even our idle words.

Thank you, Jesus for the grace you bought us on the cross, that frees us from the paralysis of our own condemnation, and give us the wisdom to decide rightly.


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