Several years ago, I was in the seminary investigating whether or not I had a vocation to be a diocesan priest. We had 7 guys that came into our class that year. Every year, each one of us had a written evaluation, and after 2 years, there’s a big evaluation to see if you go on to the next level. On holy week of that second year, myself and three other guys were invited into a special meeting and told we would not be invited to go to the next level. I remember thinking afterwards, that is what the experience at the Judgment Seat was like.
What is the Judgment Seat? Well, when Jesus was handed over to the rulers to try to have him put to death, he arrived at Pilate. Pilate was conflicted inside because of a lot of different pressures, and finally, after Jesus was scourged and crowned with thorns, he presents Jesus to the people. Sitting on the Judgment Seat. From there, Jesus is judged to be taken away to be crucified – the guy who has done all kinds of amazing things for people with no dirty laundry!
So, what happens when you encounter the judgment seat? It doesn’t matter how innocent you are, you are guilty. The judge finds something wrong, even if it doesn’t quite exist, and that drowns out any of the good, and there’s no changing anyone’s mind, and you are all done.
Alright, no one wants to stand before the judgment seat, so is there another option? Look around the news and the politicians, look at the comments on the internet, look at anyone’s political or social or religious opinion, and it looks like everywhere you go, there is the judgment seat. Everyone is either on their own seat judging or in front of someone else’s being judged, and often doing both at the same time.
So, is there anywhere we can go and not be before the judgment seat? Is there another experience we can get in this life?
I’m very glad you asked.
John in his Gospel happens to mention that Pilate sat down on the judgment seat, and it was about the 6th hour. What does the sixth hour have to do with anything? Bible scholars have struggled for years trying to rationalize the hour that Jesus was crucified, because Mark says it was nine in the morning, while John comes in years and years later, after everyone already knows the 411, and he says it was noontime, the sixth hour. What is John putting in that little tidbit for that’s going to throw off the Bible scholars for centuries and gives a lot of people reasons to spill a lot of ink?
There is only one other time in John’s Gospel where he mentions the 6th hour.
It was when Jesus took a seat. With the woman at the well.
The woman Jesus encounters at the well not only was a Samaritan, and therefore a sworn enemy of the Jews, she had also committed the biggest sin in the mind of the Jewish people, adultery. Being a Samaritan can get you death. Adultery gets you death. By all accounts of Jewish law and culture, this woman is guilty.
And Jesus let her go. Just let her go.
She was so inspired and excited and free, she went to a Samaritan village and shared the experience, and a whole Samaritan village was excited to go and see this Jewish man. Utterly impossible.
That’s what it’s like to experience … the Mercy Seat.
These are times when there is a whole lot of judging going on, we all know that. But you don’t have to be caught up in it. Come to the Mercy Seat. Whatever’s hanging on your past or your conscience, whatever you feel guilty about, even if it’s life or death, it will be let go. You can be inspired again, excited again.
And do the impossible.
“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Lk 7:47)