county-courthouseTHE PURE AND WISE AND EQUAL ADMINISTRATION OF THE LAWS FORMS THE FIRST END AND BLESSING OF SOCIAL UNION

WHAT DOTH THE LORD REQUIRE OF THEE BUT TO DO JUSTLY AND TO LOVE MERCY

EQUAL AND EXACT JUSTICE TO ALL MEN OF WHATEVER STATE OR PERSUASION RELIGIOUS OR POLITICAL

THAT THE COMMONWEALTH MAY HAVE A GOVERNMENT OF LAWS AND NOT OF MEN

These are the words that are engraved in the perimeter walls of our county courthouse.  I had the occasion to read them again last night.  The first time I stopped to read those words, they fascinated me.  This time, they bothered me.  In particular, what bothered me was the word “justice.”  For as I stood reading those words, I had to admit to myself that I don’t know what true justice is.  I can tell you what I believe justice is in my mind, but how do I define true justice?  As I stood outside staring at the engraved words, I was speechless.  I felt as if I was standing before a judge, with all the evidence presented against me, and the judge asked me what I think the verdict should be.  In my heart, and out of pure selfishness, I would blurt out “NOT GUILTY!” Truth, however, which is what I claim to desire, says “I am guilty.”  The verdict, then, is that I am guilty of not knowing what true justice is.  It should be noted here that the etymology of the word “verdict” explains that the word is formed from two roots: ver, meaning true, and dit, from the verb to say. An accurate transliteration of the word verdict would be a true report.

The following parable is an example of true justice.  It is found in the gospel of Matthew, in the 20th chapter.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. And after agreeing with the workers for the standard wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When it was about nine o’clock in the morning, he went out again and saw others standing around in the marketplace without work. He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and I will give you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and three o’clock that afternoon, he did the same thing. And about five o’clock that afternoon he went out and found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why are you standing here all day without work?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go and work in the vineyard too.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give the pay starting with the last hired until the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each received a full day’s pay. 10 And when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each one also received the standard wage. 11 When they received it, they began to complain against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last fellows worked one hour, and you have made them equal to us who bore the hardship and burning heat of the day.’ 13 And the landowner replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am not treating you unfairly. Didn’t you agree with me to work for the standard wage? 14 Take what is yours and go. I want to give to this last man the same as I gave to you. 15 Am I not permitted to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

I have read this parable many times, and have received greater understanding since I have heard the gospel of the kingdom of God.  But as I pondered this parable again in light of the words engraved upon the walls of our county courthouse, I was humiliated.  I knew that I would be one of the first to say “Lord, that just isn’t fair!”  For how could it be fair that some workers had toiled all day in the heat of the sun, while others, who stood idle all day, come in at the last hour, do a little work, but earn the same compensation?  Of course, I had to realize that I was viewing this parable from a very jaded, temporal perspective, instead of from a true, eternal perspective.  For if the reward is eternal citizenship in the kingdom of heaven, then the amount of time one spends laboring in the vineyard of this life is of little relevance.  I should be rejoicing that one performed any labor in the landowner’s vineyard, and that we both have equity in this spiritual commonwealth.  Instead, the selfish, corrupt heart of mine prohibits me from seeing the truth, and I want merely my own brand of justice – “pay more to the one who worked more!”

Lord, have mercy upon my tarnished, shallow soul.  Forgive me for petitioning you to exact my own perverted brand of justice.  Forgive me for attempting to know better than you what truth is.  Forgive me for not exhibiting the mercy that you have shown me, when true justice would demand that I receive no mercy at all.