The Compassionate Judge: Mercy Triumphs

“Sometimes the best way to help a man who has fallen into a hole is not to throw him a rope, but to climb in.” – Scott Pelley, CBS Evening News


I recently heard a heartwarming story on CBS Evening News about a retired army sergeant named Joe Serna, who served 3 tours in Afghanistan as a Green Beret and earned two purple hearts. After surviving a tragic truck accident that killed three other soldiers, he developed PTSD and a fear of small cramped spaces.

A few years ago, Joe had been arrested for drunk driving and was sentenced by Judge Lou Olivera to probation with no drinking. When he was caught lying about his urine test, the judge felt Joe needed to be held accountable and sentenced him to a night in jail.  However, knowing Joe’s condition and his fear, Judge Lou surprisingly decided to join him so he wouldn’t be alone. They ate meatloaf together and talked about life, which made Joe’s confinement more than bearable.

When asked why he spent the night in jail with a man he sentenced Judge Lou replied, “I knew what Joe was going through. I knew his story. He had to be held accountable, but I just had to go with him.”  Afterwards, Joe told the judge how much what he did for him meant to him, and that he didn’t want to let him down again. If Judge Lou had not enforced the consequence for Joe’s actions, Joe would not have learned his lesson and probably continued to harm himself as well as those around him.  However, Judge Lou just didn’t sentence him to a night in jail and move on. He actually went with him. He didn’t do anything wrong himself, but he cared about Joe and didn’t want him to go through it alone. One act of compassion touched Joe’s heart and changed his life forever.


The Father’s heart

I can’t help but think of our Father in heaven when I think of this story and tears well up in my eyes. Judge Lou has his heart — the heart of a righteous judge who is fair and executes justice, as well as the heart of a merciful Father who will never leave us or forsake us. In the big picture, we all have sinned and fall short of his glory, and we all deserve the consequence of death and eternal separation from him.  But with that sentence, he not only sent his Son, Jesus, to be with us, but also sent him to take the punishment for us. He who knew no sin, bore the weight all our sin and was declared guilty in our place. In turn, Jesus gave us his righteousness and his right standing with the Father by cleansing us from all our guilt and shame and making us completely new in him. One act of compassion touched our hearts and changed our lives by giving us his life.


A personal perspective

From a more personal perspective, we are still living in a fallen world and will suffer at the hands of sinful people when we ourselves have done nothing wrong. We are also prone to make mistakes and bad choices that get us into a heap of trouble, and we often have to suffer the consequences of our actions. Yet still, our Father, who is just and merciful, gives us the Holy Spirit to be with us right in the middle of it all, through thick and thin. He is our source of wisdom, power and comfort. We may have to go through the refiner’s fire, or we may have to learn a painful lesson, but he loves us and doesn’t want us to go through it alone. It sounds so simplistic, but He really just wants to be with us. He may not take us out of our difficult circumstances or save us from every bad thing that could happen, and we may never understand why, but we will always look back and see that he was always there and always will be. His daily compassion never fails to touch our hearts and change our lives.


Climb in

So, the next time we have an opportunity to judge someone, instead of condemning him, fixing him or rescuing him, maybe we should just be there for him as he is enduring suffering. If he has fallen into a hole, instead of throwing a rope, let’s try climbing in with him. One act of compassion will make all the difference. For who knows when you might end up in a hole?

“So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James

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