“Justice is your right, and we demand it!” barks an attorney in a television commercial for a local law firm. He goes on to recount stories of his clients whose lives have been forever changed as a result of the sizeable settlements he has reached on their behalf.
The commercial offends my sense of what justice really involves, although it does contain an element of truth. Justice is everyone’s right, and it doesn’t just happen. We have to believe in it, work for it and live in ways that sustain it every day. One of the ways we do that is through our public service on juries.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to serve on a jury, I hope one day you do and that your experience is as enlightening as mine recently was.
I had lived a jury-duty-free life, and after only one year of residence in Tennessee, the courtroom was the farthest thing from my mind. Somehow, though, my number came up this fall.
I’d heard the usual stories about time and money wasted on petty cases that never should have gone to trial, so I went into it with more than a few reservations. My experiences included some of what others had warned me about, but they also gave me some valuable lessons.
After several trips to the jury box for questioning by the respective attorneys in a couple of criminal cases, I began to wonder whether they really wanted a thinking person to serve. I was struck a number of times because of responses I gave to attorneys’ specific questions. It was disappointing. I wanted to serve.
Finally, I was seated on a jury in a civil case. We listened to hours of testimony and depositions and reviewed numerous pieces of evidence. Words like plaintiff, defendant, cross-examination, objection, sustained, overruled, recess and sidebar took on new meanings.
The case was complicated and messy; the testimony of the plaintiff was emotional and anguished. A lot of money was at stake. One person would leave that courtroom very happy; another, disappointed and perhaps angry.
Our jury was a motley crew, representing a cross-section of our county. Each person approached our task seriously. We talked, debated and studied exhibits submitted as evidence. Everyone had a voice.
Finally, we reached a unanimous verdict. We filed back into the courtroom, and the foreman read aloud our decision. We watched as one person sighed, hung his head and exhaled slowly, while another’s face broke into a wide, relieved grin.
Justice prevailed that day, and I’m glad I had a part in it. But a commitment to justice involves much more than occasionally serving on a jury. We have opportunities to pursue and advance justice every day in how we speak to and treat others.
While justice is our right in this country, it’s also the other person’s right. It isn’t justice if it’s only about us and what we can get. We shouldn’t demand it only for ourselves. Justice thrives when we seek the best for everyone, not just what we think we deserve.
Even before Jesus grew into the one who would show us how to live justly, Joseph redefined justice. While he was devoted to God’s law, he was more devoted to God’s heart. Placing love above the law, he sought for Mary what was best for her, not what she had coming to her.
During this season of wishes for peace on earth and good will to all people, may Joseph’s example remind us to respond to people with compassion and grace, not just this season, but every day of the year.
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.