I have been called for jury duty several times. Each time I go to the courthouse, I have been sent back home after waiting for a few hours. I have never made it into a court room. On each occasion, the person in charge has announced that all of the cases that were scheduled to be heard that day were settled at the last minute. We were then thanked for our service and sent home with a small check.
Jesus refers to the notion settling out of court in today's Gospel. However, we have to be careful not to impose our judicial system on our reading of the Gospel. In 1st Century Israel, cases that came up for judgment did not involve criminal activity. Criminals were dealt with by the Roman governor. The cases to which Jesus refers to are those that involve a grievance of some sort. These cases involved such things as people who felt they were cheated out of what was rightfully theirs or upon a contract violation. They might also feel that they had been insulted publically. In such cases, a panel of three judges (one chosen by the plaintiff, one by the defendant, and one by the community at large) decided the case. Unfortunately, the system was inherently corrupt since it was usually won by whoever could influence the third and so-called "impartial" judge.
Jesus uses this analogy to counsel forgiveness, to recommend reconciliation, to consider mercy and compassion. Of course, these virtues and stories about them run throughout the Gospel.
It is once again important, as I have mentioned before, to remember the context in which Jesus' sayings are gathered together by Saint Luke. Jesus is walking to Jerusalem where he will be arrested and tried as a criminal. When we read these comments in that light, we begin to see how important it is for the Christian to approach such instances with an aim to reconcile. It makes one of the final utterances of Jesus all the more powerful; namely, when he forgives his executioners while hanging on a cross.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator