a petition of clemency


Since moving to Old Town and seeing the Washington Monument, the Capitol, and the Old Post Tower on the reg from across the Potomac, we Berry's felt it was only appropriate to watch all seven seasons of The West Wing to properly introduce us to our new surroundings. And seriously, I forgot how addicting good that show really was.

And how appropriate that the episode of President Bartlet issuing pardons would come up around Easter... To recap, Bartlet is considering 36 petitions of clemency but is surrounded by sticky conditionals: poor timing in the lead up to his SOTU; the delegation of reviewing the petitions without looking like any heavy consideration is occurring; the relatively low number of pardons issued by his contemporaries vs. a noticeably higher average by Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, & FDR; assurances that all selected petitions (referred to as "packing peanuts") are non-violent & serving minimum sentences; that all the "packing peanuts" don't scream too much of a political move in one direction or the other; worrying about what the chosen will look like on the cover of the Times... In other words, so much red tape. 

And poor Donna. She drew the short straw in having to review all the files on the 36. She sees them as more than a number: people with families, trying to make the best of desperate situations. Donna even meets the affluent family of one of the 36, who are so desperate for their son's pardon that the mother begs for the mercy of President Bartlet. But that pesky red tape barred any opportunity for his pardon at the moment ("maybe in the spring when the dust settles" as Leo puts it) & in the end, he kills himself. 

Could you imagine that? All those steps to ensure your forgiveness? To start anew? This stuff happens in real life. All because one made a terrible mistake. Damned for life {sounds a lot like Jean Valjean's life in Les Mis, doesn't it?}.

But then, there's a reciprocal story. It's the story of Easter. A story that deals with a pardon of the spirit rather than the flesh. A presidential pardon can only clear one's name, but for a soul-cleansing, look no further than the Cross. 

Skipping over the part about God sending his son to experience all of the trials and pains of the world (aka the Incarnation, John 1:1-2, 14), Christ did a rather preposterous thing {weirder greater than coming to earth in the first place}: he died... as a criminal in the eyes of the Law. But wait... Our perfect King, a criminal? 


Yes, yes. As I think many of us forget throughout the year and remember riiiiight around Passion week, Christ was quite the peaceful protestor. What he preached was a rebellion of itself {albeit a semi-quiet movement}, even though the God Incarnate knew all along that he was fulfilling all the previous covenants & Scripture from the Old Testament. The primate minds of the humans just couldn't comprehend... Not even his disciples fully knew what was going on & were confused even up to Christ's acknowledgment of the events to come {heck, they were confused until they saw him again on the third/fourth day}:



"Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them,
'We are going up to Jerusalem, 
and everything that is written by the prophets
 about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.
He will be handed over to the Gentiles.
They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him.*
On the third day he will rise again.'
The disciples did not understand any of this.
Its meaning was hidden from them,
and they did not know what he was talking about."

Luke 18:31-34


Poor guys. They just didn't have a clue. Meanwhile, all the teachers of the Law and Pharisees were running around trying to catch Christ out on something he said. Anything to prove that he was a fraud... In their eyes (as in everyone else's), the Law was the Law. Uphold it or be cast aside. After playing a few rounds of Jeopardy! and Christ answering their vindictive questions with profound answers questions, the chief priests & elders got sick of their reindeer games and went with a different approach: cleverly arrest Jesus & kill him! So they checked their calendars & decided it was best to avoid their scheme during the Passover Feast as that may cause a riot among the people (Matthew 26:1-5). Always gotta tiptoe around those politics, you guys. Plus, they caught a lucky break by the name of the traitor Judas (a supposed disciple) who did all their dirty work for them.

So now we have a criminal caught up in a bad trial of false witnesses & evidence with the Sanhedrin. Eventually two witnesses appeared that had something of merit: they had heard Christ say "I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days." (Matthew 26:61) Needless to say, Christ eventually received his death sentence after admitting to being the Son of God (& they spit on & struck him*). So Christ was shuttled to the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, who had the authority at Passover to pardon a prisoner. But as this is a reciprocal story, Christ doesn't get pardoned; Christ does the pardoning. Instead Barabbas, a notorious prisoner, got the golden ticket, & Christ was flogged* and handed over to be crucified. 

In the next stage, the soldiers dressed Christ up in a robe, a crown of thorns, & a staff and mocked* him saying "Hail, king of the Jews" and spit on him some more. Once they'd had their fun, the soldiers crucified him & placed his written charge above his head: This is Jesus, King of the Jews. And pretty much anybody and everybody insulted* him: the soldiers, the passersby, even the robbers flanked on either side of him on their crosses {their personal favorite was reminding him of his power to destroy a temple, yet his inability to save himself from the cross.. Oh ye, of little faith!}

And so, he died* at the hands of the Law. Oh, and the temple broke in two, a sort of earthquake-thing happened, tombs broke open & many bodies of holy people were raised back to life (Matthew 27:51-53), causing the centurion to exclaim, "Surely he was the Son of God!"

But the chief priests & elders weren't done quite yet {they're very thorough}. They didn't want any funny business going on with the ever loyal disciples, so they posted a guard at the tomb to prevent anyone from stealing Christ's body & falsely proclaiming he had risen again on the third day. So on that day, there was a violent earthquake & an angel of the Lord came and rolled back the tomb stone {thwarting their plan of keeping it sealed shut}, which totally gave the guards a fright & caused them to pass out. The angel told the women (who had come before the angel's arrival) that Christ had risen! And to pass the news along to his disciples and Peter that he was going ahead of them to Galilee (Mark 16:6-7). 

But even that wasn't enough for the Eleven to cause them to believe. No, it took Christ coming to see them personally for their eyes to be opened and see that all they had hoped & learned through the Scriptures was true. But hey, at least they got it eventually, unlike the chief priests and elders who paid off the guards to spread the story that the disciples came in the dead of night & stole Christ's body to give the illusion that he rose from the grave (Matthew 28:11-15)... I told you they're very thorough.


"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel [...]," declares the Lord;
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts."
[...]
"For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more."

Jeremiah 31:33-34


"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but to save the world through him."

John 3:16-17


So while it may not take a grand jury, perfect political timing, or an extensive general counsel's office to grant you a pardon, do remember this: your forgiveness doesn't come without a price. The Son of God came here to this place full of everything that Heaven is not to teach us a new way of life through his light & truth. During his time here, he demonstrated for us that the two greatest commandments were truly something to live by, to love God & love people. And then one day around the Passover Feast, he fulfilled every prophesy and scripture about the Christ in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms by being crucified & rising again three days later. 

He loves you that much. To die for you, and to bring you a new covenant with God full of grace.


**Most of the story came from Matthew 26 & 27 and Luke 24