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Law & Order and mercy (Law & Order SVU)

On an episode of Law & Order SVU, a teenage girl brutally murdered her mother.  As her trial unfolded, certain investigative developments brought forth evidence that all but guaranteed a guilty verdict from the jury.  It also became apparent to the detectives who conducted the investigation that there was more to the story of what happened than what they had originally uncovered and which had served as the basis for prosecution. 

Further evidence revealed that the girl’s mother was an alcoholic who was also physically abusive to her daughter.  Indeed, it was the repeated slapping of her daughter that incited the violent murder.  One of the lead detectives tells the district attorney to plead the case out for a lesser sentence.   The DA does this.

 After the deal has been struck and the girl has been sentenced to five years, the DA told the girl’s attorney, “She’ll be in a juvenile facility – no hard time.”  The girl’s attorney remained puzzled by the state’s sudden shift from prosecution to plea bargaining.  She told the DA that she had polled the jury and knew that they would have found her client guilty on the more serious charge for a more severe sentence.   “I know,” sais the DA.  The attorney asked, “Why did you plead her out?”  The DA gave her a look but no words as she nodded toward a lone figure sitting in the empty courtroom. 

It was the detective who had advised the DA to plead the case out.  She sat in her seat and stared at the defense attorney with a distant look frozen on her face.   Then the attorney understood.  The look on the detective’s face went back twenty years to the time when she had been a troubled teenager and had asked the attorney, then a law student, to help her deal with her alcoholic and abusive mother.  The detective had worked for mercy.  She could do no less.  

That’s the way it is with those who belong to Christ!  We have no choice but to be merciful.  Freely we have received mercy, freely we should grant it.   Matthew filled his gospel with all kinds of mercy moments.  He showed us Jesus healing people afflicted with illness, disease, and disability.  He told us that the Christ identified mercy as one of the more important matters of the law (23:23).  He showed us how Jesus pointed the misdirected Pharisees to the prophets and their emphasis on mercy above sacrifice (9:13, 12:7).  But it’s the parable of unmerciful servant that Matthew recorded in 18:21-35 that should get out attention.

Matthew placed the story at the end of a teaching block that’s designed to show that everyone is important in the kingdom of God - those of little or no status (v. 1-10), those who are lost (v. 12-14), even those who have committed serious sins (v. 15-20).  We are under obligation to make all of our relationships mercy-based because that’s what we have experienced from our Father.  We forgive not a set amount of times, but as often as it is needed (v. 21-22) – that’s the point of Jesus’ answer to Peter (and isn’t Matthew's interest with numbers fascinating?).

The story launched by this question is funny, sad, and haunting.  It concerned a man who owed an enormous debt that he was incapable of repaying.  He was going to lose everything, including his wife and children.  He asked for patience but his master did even better – he forgave the debt!  But rather than go out and treat others with the same kind of mercy he had experienced, the man had someone who owed him a small amount thrown into prison.  When his master heard about this, he called the man to judgment and had him turned over to be tortured until payment for his debt has been extracted. 

Jesus drove the final nail home when He said that those who won’t work for mercy should not expect to receive any from God. 

That’s frighteningly plain, don't you think?

Let's work for mercy.  We can do no less.
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