I just finished reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. This true story tells of Stevenson’s work as a lawyer for the Equal Justice Initiative (which he founded) defending wrongly condemned criminals and others whose race or poverty have resulted in their unfair treatment by the criminal justice system. Even for those of us already aware of how the system is stacked against the poor and marginalized, the book is a difficult, albeit compelling, read.
There is much I could say about the book, but one image stuck out for me. After securing the release of two men who had been sentenced to life as juveniles, Stevenson stops to talk to a woman who he has seen in the court day after day. Learning she is unrelated to either defendant, he wonders why she comes to the courtroom. She explains to him why she needs to be there:
I just felt like maybe I could be someone, you know, that somebody hurting could lean on….I just started letting anybody lean on me who needed it. All these young children being sent to prison forever, all this grief and violence. Those judges throwing people away like they’re not even human, people shooting each other, hurting each other like they don’t care. I don’t know, it’s a lot of pain. I decided that I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast at each other.
The image resonated with Stevenson, who recalled a time he had spoke about a particular case of his at a church meeting. He had reminded people that when the woman accused of adultery was brought to Jesus, Jesus told the woman’s accusers’, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” He then told them that
today, our self-righteousness, our fear, and our anger have caused even the Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion. I told the congregation that we can’t simply watch that happen. I told them we have to be stonecatchers.
The question we ought to ask ourselves is: Are we stone throwers or stone catchers?
The former is a lot easier than the latter. (As the woman says to Stevenson, “it hurts to catch all them stones people throw.”) But it is clear which Jesus calls us to be.