I finished up jury duty this week. This is the only week that required me to actually show up at the court house during my two-month term. Most trials get settled out of court. It was an interesting process. There were forty people in the jury room waiting to be sorted down to six. We watched a video describing what would be expected of us, and then received further instructions from the jury coordinator. When the judge was ready for us, we all shuffled into the next court room for the elimination rounds. When your number was called, you would sit in the jury box, then asked questions by the attorneys on both sides of the case.
It wasn’t like television. Most of the questions were addressed to the entire jury pool—a “raise your hand if…”you know someone in law enforcement,” “you may have a bias about…” The questions were so general, I began to think we would be in that room all day. Finally, the questions began to be more specific, and things began to get more interesting.
The most interesting question of the morning came from the prosecutor. He told a story. He described himself driving south on 97 going 56 miles per hour. A farmer witnessed him speeding. An officer clocked him on radar speeding. And then the officer following in his car observed him speeding. The officer stopped him. What would be your response as a juror?
Most of the room chuckled at his example. One young woman explained, that going 56 mph on 97 would cause other drivers to tail gate, or pass you going 80. True that. Another young man raised his hand. He was asked, would you have difficulty with that as a juror? “Yes,” he answered, “it would be ridiculous. The officer should have just cut him a break.”
The point the prosecutor was trying to make, of course, was that as a juror, you are not asked to make a judgment on fair or unfair, or even reasonable or unreasonable. A juror is asked to look at the evidence, then decide whether or not the evidence supports the charge. The rule of law means that choosing to break it opens you to the consequence of that choice.
It reminded me of the time, many years ago now, when I was driving an old Chevy Malibu. It was a beater car, and I had been having some trouble with it stalling out when I slowed down. I came down a small hill, and gunned it to keep it from stalling out, and then noticed a police car right behind me. I didn’t even wait for him to turn on his lights, I simply pulled over. It made him chuckle, anyway. I explained the situation to him, and he told me to get my car into the garage. I can’t remember whether or not I got the ticket, or just a warning. But, I knew that I had been speeding. I was ready to take the consequences, as inconvenient as that would be.
Accepting responsibility and consequences for our actions are never easy. We seem to be living at a time when it is much easier to try to lay blame for our choices, than to accept the impact of words, actions, and behaviors. Or we may apply one standard to the behavior of others, and a different standard to our own. This is not to say that there should not be times when we apply grace or mercy in extenuating circumstances. But, unless I am the judge, that is not my job. As someone who believes that there are times when I must in conscience make choices that may rock the boat, I must be willing to pay the price for my actions.
Jesus’ disciples understood this. They were told over and over to “cease and desist,” with what they were doing. They didn’t stop. This meant they faced alienation in their communities, public humiliation, beatings and arrest. Sometimes it cost them their lives.
Not to be overly dramatic, but I think there is a lesson for me—for us—here. Like the parables of Jesus, if I cannot be faithful in a little, how can I be faithful in the great? Am I willing to pay the price for loving? For caring for those who are the stranger? For going against the grain to make the world a more just place? For standing with the alienated? For showing hospitality and mercy to those who have been labeled, sorted, dismissed?
I may not be asked to choose today, or maybe not tomorrow. But I have no doubt that the choices I make this day are preparing me for whatever may lie ahead.