Just Mercy isn’t exactly a faith-based movie. It contains language that might be offensive to some, and it deals in realistic ways with racism and despair.
The movie is based on a book of the same name written by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who spent years representing people sentenced to death row for their crimes. Stevenson is a Christian, and his faith motivated him to pursue justice and mercy for those who our society has condemned.
While the movie is not upfront about Stevenson’s gospel-based motivations, several key moments in the film reminded me of the beauty of Jesus.
These are 3 of my favorite lines from the movie. I tried to avoid spoiling anything, so the context won’t always be clear. Sorry. If you go see the movie, you’ll get the context. So go see it!
1. “Whatever you’ve done, your life is still meaningful.”
Who Said It: Bryan Stevenson said it to a man on death row after he had admitted to killing someone.
Why It Made My Eyes Sweat: This is the heart of the Gospel. While we were still enemies of God, Jesus came and died for us. No matter what we’ve done, no matter who we have harmed, Jesus’s death and resurrection proclaim the value of each of our lives.
Stevenson looked at a man who had just confessed to an awful, evil thing, and told him he still mattered. If that doesn’t sound like Jesus, I don’t know what does.
2. “If we can look at ourselves closely, and honestly, I believe we will see that we all need justice, we all need mercy, and perhaps we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
Who Said It: This was Stevenson again, in a speech to congress.
Why It Tugged at My Heart Strings: I think we are all good at thinking people who have killed are not quite as good as normal people. We make a sort of distinction between us and them, believing we could never do something so heinous.
But we’re wrong. We’re all capable of taking life.
Two of the greatest people in the Old Testament, Moses and David, were murderers. I know my faith and dedication to God isn’t as great as theirs, so I should be careful in claiming I’m better behaved than they were. Sitting in judgement of people, and defining them by their worst moments in life, is a normal thing to do. But God asks us to follow Him into an upside down Kingdom and give in to grace. He calls us to see people the way he sees them: as his image bearers worthy of justice, mercy, and grace.
3. If they take me to that chair tonight, I’m a go out smiling ’cause I got my truth back. You gave me that. You gave it to my family.
Who Said it: Walter McMillian to Bryan Stevenson when things seem hopeless.
Why It Made My Eye Allergies Flare Up: The world is always trying to redefine us. It says we’re too fat, too stupid, too scared, too ________ to be considered good and lovely by anyone. I’ve spent so many minutes, hours, and days trying to prove to myself and others I’m lovable- trying to prove I’m worthy of people’s respect, affection, and friendship.
It’s only been because of Jesus, and Jesus alone, that I’ve been able to find rest from that race. The Creator deemed me worthy of love and grace before I did anything. His love for me is not reliant on me at all. It depends on his character, and his character only.
The love and grace of God can help us find peace and comfort no matter our circumstances. Just like Stevenson helped McMillian remember his intrinsic value, so, too, are we reminded of our value when we are shown justice and mercy.
You can rent “Just Mercy” for free in June 2020 through a variety of digital movie services in the US, including Apple TV, FandangoNow, Google Play, Amazon Prime Video, Redbox, the PlayStation Store, Vudu, Microsoft, and YouTube. It stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson.
From the studio:
A powerful and thought-provoking true story, “Just Mercy” follows young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Jordan) and his history-making battle for justice. After graduating from Harvard, Bryan had his pick of lucrative jobs. Instead, he heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or who were not afforded proper representation, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley (Larson). One of his first, and most incendiary, cases is that of Walter McMillian (Foxx), who, in 1987, was sentenced to die for the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite a preponderance of evidence proving his innocence and the fact that the only testimony against him came from a criminal with a motive to lie. In the years that follow, Bryan becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings and overt and unabashed racism as he fights for Walter, and others like him, with the odds—and the system—stacked against them.