Friday, January 8, 2010

Grace Not Shortchanged

Lunch on the day I served as a juror turned out to be almost as challenging as the criminal trial. During a recess from court, where we were hearing a case about sexual contact with a four-year-old, a handful of jurors and I made our way to a nearby restaurant within walking distance of the courthouse.

We couldn’t talk about the case, so we chatted about inconsequential things. All was well until our server handed us a single tab.

I looked in my wallet. I had a couple of $20 bills. No one else had change. “Let’s go to the counter and get her to split the ticket,” I suggested. Because each of us ate from the buffet, the only price difference would be for those who drank tea with their meal versus those who drank Diet Coke.

Nevertheless, the resulting math equation turned out to be confusing for the cashier. My fellow Diet Coke drinker paved the way. “One buffet and one Diet Coke,” she said. It took some calculation, but the cashier finally rendered the verdict: “$7.07.”

I handed over my $20 bill next. “Mine is $7.07, too,” I announced. “I had the same thing as her.” The cashier took my money and handed back some bills and coins. I grabbed them and walked back to the table to leave a tip. When I returned to the cash register, the others in my party were still trying to sort out their bills.

“No, that’s not the right amount of change,” my fellow juror pronounced as she carefully counted the money.

I looked at the bills I still clutched and counted them, too. “Oh, this isn’t the correct change either. I gave you a $20.” The cashier dealt with the other woman, looked at the money in my hand and handed me more bills.

“Is that correct?” my fellow juror asked.

“Not exactly,” I said slowly. “I took some out for a tip, but it’s still not right.” We had 20 minutes before we were due back in court. It didn’t seem worth the hassle, and the cashier looked flustered. “I’m not going to worry about it. Let’s go.”

We returned to the courthouse and spent the rest of the day listening to a case we never got the opportunity to deliberate. After the prosecution rested, the judge took over and decided the case. He determined the prosecution had not proven its case and set the defendant free.

It made me wonder. Had the prosecution been too eager to find guilt? Would we, the jury, have shortchanged the defendant if the judge had not intervened? Did the defendant receive mercy he did not deserve?

It was still snowing, still cold, and I was still hungry as I pulled out of the parking lot late that afternoon. I turned into a fast food restaurant drive-thru, handing the cashier another $20 bill. This time I looked at my change as she handed it back; it was not correct. In fact, with the extra bill she gave me, I could more than make up for being shortchanged at lunch.

I dismissed the thought; it just wouldn’t be right. “I think you gave me too much change,” I told the sheepish young woman as I handed back a five.

Mercy and justice are glorious gifts from God. To experience either has the power to change us into our best selves. To dispense either requires that we be our best selves. Mercifully, some of the responsibility for this had just been taken out of my hands. But otherwise, at least on this day, I was satisfied that what I served was both just and full of grace.

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-ending stream!~Amos 5:24