Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 103; 150, Job 25:1-6, Job 27:1-6, Revelation 14:1-7, 13, Matthew 5:13-20
Plea bargaining is a common but controversial practice. On one hand, it increases efficiency in an overburdened criminal justice system, and results in convictions that otherwise might not happen. On the other, many people believe plea bargaining results in unfair sentencing, an erosion of constitutional rights, and coerced confessions of (sometimes innocent) people who are too frightened and/or poor to demand a fair trial with adequate representation. Plea bargaining is a balance between getting things done, and getting things right. It forces us to ask whether an increased conviction rate is worth a decrease in fairness – or the right measure at all.
Job’s friend Bildad wanted him to plea bargain with God. Essentially he said: “Everybody’s guilty of something. Just admit your wrongdoing and this will all go away.” Job, rightly convinced of his own innocence, wasn’t having it: “[M]y lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit. Far be it from me to say that you are right; until I die I will not put away my integrity from me.” In the end, Job is justified; he is badly abused, but his righteousness remains unblemished.
When Jesus said he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, he was preparing for the ultimate plea bargain. Guilty of nothing, he knowingly and willingly took our sin to the cross. Not just some of our sin – all of it. If we are willing to yoke our fate to his, to follow him through both destruction and glory, and to recognize our freedom is not of our own doing, the law no longer has power over us.
Very often God’s justice is an upside-down reflection of human justice. Rather than increasing the conviction rate, Christ’s sacrificial plea bargain reduced it to zero. Efficiency was measured not in condemnations, but in salvation. Unlike Job, we are all guilty of something. Let’s honor Christ’s sacrifice by admitting to every bit of it, by wringing out every drop of forgiveness and new life he offers. Let us beat our swords into plowshares, and prison bars into gates of welcome.
(for additional thoughts on today’s text from Matthew 5, see Lightly Salted)
Comfort: Jesus has already paid the price for your freedom.
Challenge: Forgiveness and freedom are meant to be passed along. Take some action to help address injustices in your own community.
Prayer: Lord of Heaven and Earth, I love you with all my heart, mind, and soul. Give me strength to love my neighbor as myself, and to love myself well. Amen.
Discussion: Watch this video on plea bargaining. What are your thoughts?
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