Please forgive my absence over the past few weeks. I'd like to tell you that I've been traveling hither and yon bringing joy and excitement to one and all, but in truth I've simply been working too much.
As part of my work, I find myself in courtrooms from time to time. No, I'm not in trouble or going through a divorce. But I do get to see a variety of people at crisis points of their lives. Some are sorry for what they've done and some are not. For a few, a court date is simply an inconvenience while for others it's a chance to get out of the cell and see some new surroundings. But with all the differences, the process is almost always the same and the variety of personalities all end up facing the justice they'd rather avoid.
This week I saw something different... truly different.
She didn't look like all the rest, but she didn't look out of place either. 26 years old. College graduate. Facing four felony counts. And she was smiling, even joking with her attorney a couple of times. When the hearing began, I didn't think too much about her attitude. The charges against her were read -- theft, complicity to commit theft, complicity to commit theft, engaging in a pattern of corrupt behavior. Obviously, this young woman had some problems.
The typical process involves a plea bargain. The prosecution agrees to reduce the charges against a defendant in exchange for a guilty plea. It saves the county money because the expense of a jury trial is saved. The defendant usually gets a lighter sentence since the charge against him is less serious. I've seen the whole parade go by dozens of times.
This week the parade took a detour.
During the hearing, it was revealed that this young woman had conspired with another person to steal big-screen televisions out of the local Wal-Mart, then either sell them or return them to another Wal-Mart and collect the money. The lady helped her partner twice to sneak out televisions. Then she stole one on her own. Then the police showed up and the whole thing fell apart. She was charged with four felonies, three counts less serious and one count -- engaging in a pattern of corrupt behavior -- much more serious.
As usual, the prosecution offered a deal. They would dismiss the most serious charge which carried with it a possible 8-year prison sentence if she would simply plead guilty to the three lesser charges and face a possible three years in prison. But this woman refused the deal, and decided to plead guilty to all four charges! Her attorney tried to talk her out of it, but she was determined to plead guilty to all four counts and face a maximum 11 years total and up to $22,000 in fines!
I don't know why this young woman wanted to do this. The difference between 3 years in prison and 11 years in prison is staggering. As I sat in the courtroom, I wondered about her motives. Was she trying to punish herself? Was she trying to make a point about the justice system? Was she just being stubborn? Was she reflecting a recent more awakening in her life? Did she think she'd get a lighter sentence by going through this act?
I couldn't decide. But whatever it was that made her refuse the mercy offered to her, she appeared to be at peace about it all. She was happy facing the full consequences of her actions, and not just getting away with a lesser punishment. Despite the urgings of her lawyer and even the prosecution, she wanted to face all four charges head on.
I think I can really admire her for that. I'm not really sure, as I don't really know her motivation. Still it seems somehow honorable to take full responsibility for one's actions.
But as my mind continued to wander, and I continued to wonder, I realize what I had just witnessed. This woman had refused mercy. That's very unusual in most settings, but not in the realm of Christian witness.
I've known countless people who have refused the mercy offered to them. I've talked to many who seem content facing the consequences for their life of sin, thinking it somehow wrong if they accepted the grace of Christ. There was the old man who saw no reason to accept Christ at his age because it wouldn't seen fair to live as a sinner for almost 90 years, then slip into heaven after one little prayer. There was the lady who realized her sinfulness but wouldn't dream of asking for mercy. She didn't think she was worth it.
I find it odd that refusing mercy is so easily understood when it involves Jesus Christ, but stands out so when it happens in any other walk of life. Perhaps it is a pride issue. Maybe that old man simply didn't want to give up control of his life. Maybe the other lady didn't want to seem hypocritical to others. Could it be that they felt the need to take responsibility for their own actions and didn't want to be obligated to Someone else?
I don't know what will happen with the 26-year-old television thief. I hope she has refused mercy because she feels the moral obligation to take her punishment, and I hope that mercy will still be given by the judge. I'll know in about six weeks. But more than that, I wish that refusing the grace and mercy offered through Christ Jesus wasn't so easy for so many to do.