Monday, May 19, 2008

To judge or not to judge?

During my time in Australia, I took several groups of Year 10 students to sit in during a Magistrate's court session, giving them the chance to see justice in action. It was interesting and a bit frightening.

One man, obviously guilty of growing cannabis in his yard, was released because he had a good lawyer and because the police cameraman ran out of film. A young lad was found guilty of carrying a dangerous weapon (actually a hacksaw blade) and was sentenced because, whether or not he deserved his sentence, his lawyer couldn't be bothered putting up a fight. He looked frightened, whereas the cannabis grower really couldn't have cared less and would probably go from one crime to a bigger one.

Then there were those who were guilty of traffic offences. Most of those people were highly embarrassed and couldn't wait to leave the court. It was easy to imagine that their main concern was whether or not their name would appear in the newspapers and tarnish their reputation... and so the sessions continued.

When someone is convicted of a crime, whether or not, in actual fact, they really were guilty, the sentence might be handed down to the defendant, but it is also imposed on the family, who go through their own private hell, especially if they are innocent of any crime. Such people do not have the experience of the genuine criminals and therefore have no resources to call into operation. Where the guilty are devious, the innocent are confused, frightened and alone. The media, in search of a story, turn a bad dream into a nightmare.

Jesus said, "Judge not, and you will not be judged."

How often, in the course of a single day, am I judge and jury? How often do I pass sentence, perhaps without knowing the full story? How often do I gossip about someone's errors, causing the story to grow in the telling? Do I ever leave someone in their misery, precisely because I can't be bothered to defend an action that might not have been as serious as others might believe? Do I ever cause the innocent to suffer, just because they have been associated with a person whom I have condemned? Do I offer support, or do I leave them broken-hearted and not knowing where to turn? Do I ever make excuses for an individual, trying to see their point of view before I pass judgement?

...and if a person really is guilty and deserving of punishment, do I practise mercy?

As Shakespeare wrote in the Merchant of Venice:

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice we all must see salvation,
We all do pray for mercy
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.

God bless,
Sr. Janet