The room was full of guilt, and I knew this because I was sitting in it. I arrived early and sat in one of benches toward the back of the room, perhaps a small attempt at being inconspicuous. But in a courtroom no one goes unnoticed, and this is particularly true of those who are on trial. Traffic court, I discovered, is an interesting place. At the very least it made for an afternoon of good people-watching. At most it offered a window into realms of justice, faith, and human behavior.
A few months prior to my court appearance, I had been caught speeding less than a mile from my house. True, there were several factors at work, but there was no question of my guilt. I was in a hurry to get home, deep in thought about a sad situation, and driving my husband’s car (which was more powerful than mine). My mind was simply elsewhere, and I was speeding. My initial thought was to simply pay the ticket and be done with it. But the officer said if I showed up in court, he would lower the fine.
I had never been to traffic court before. I had no idea they were going to announce my crime in public and ask me to state my plea before the masses. It was all somewhat humiliating, even if warranted. (I felt sorriest for the teenage offenders in the room; the magistrate was especially hard on them.) After every crime had been exposed, our guilt seemed to loom like giant name tags. My entire row was filled with speeders. Others were caught driving with expired tags or licenses, cited for following too closely, or driving recklessly. One by one we were called to stand before the judge–and one by one we were pardoned.
To the surprise of all, our charges were dismissed. They took the yellow tickets we’d been clutching in our sweaty hands and handed us tickets rewritten with warnings where steep fines had once been. I suspect what we experienced was far from typical. I’m not sure one can even remotely say justice was served. But regardless, it was for us something of a modern day of jubilee.
Jesus once told a parable about a widow and a judge. Unlike most in my court story, the widow was not guilty of anything. Day in and day out, she came to this judge who “neither feared God nor cared about men” with a single plea: “Grant me justice against my adversary” (Luke 18:3). For some time the judge refused. But finally, he relented, saying to himself, “[B]ecause this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!” As often is the case, Jesus told this parable with a question in mind for its hearers. “Listen to what the unjust judge says,” he concluded. “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” (Luke 18:6-8).
It is interesting that justice is one of the first things we learn to cry out for as children. The desire that life be fair seems innate to our hearts and minds. The parable of the persistent widow graphically reminds us that we do not cry in vain. God is a judge who longs to set the world aright. God is just and fair and listening to the cries of his children. In his high court, God will see to justice; God has also seen to our pardon. Whether we cry out in desperation for the world around us or in the guilt of our own hearts, Jesus’s words bid us not to grow weary of prayer and supplication, for we pray before a judge who is both just and merciful.
Yet often overlooked in this courtroom story is the final question Jesus poses. He has assured the crowd that they will see justice. He then leaves them with a question. “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:9). Like the widow discovered in the parable, God will faithfully see to our deliverance. Like I experienced in court, God has mercifully offered to exchange our slips of guilt with declarations of pardon. Yet none of this assures that Christ will find faith throughout the land when he returns. The mercy extended to me at the courthouse hardly assures my faithfulness to traffic laws hereon out. Nor does it assure that my awe and respect will remain for the judge who pardoned me.
But it should. And this day before us is a time to reflect on all the reasons why. God, who is merciful to all, who went to the cross on behalf of the guilt that is everywhere, is looking for faith among the masses. The source of all that is just seeks those who will walk humbly with their God. Jesus pardons the guilty. He promises justice. He extends mercy to all who will receive it. And he hopes for faith. He calls for followers. Justice and mercy are best accepted bowing our lives before the God who freely gives it.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.