Mercy Triumphs Over Justice

call the midwife 2In Season One, Episode 2 of Call the Midwife, we have an overwhelming picture of love and mercy.

The beginning of the show has us at a clinic watching women come in for their regular maternity check ups. A couple walks in, he – older, she – clearly uncomfortable. The midwives check her and give her a perfect bill of health, but they are uneasy and intuitively know something is not right.

Throughout the show we are taken to the home of the couple, privy to the conversations between midwife and patient. But still we don’t find out much – just that she is surprised she is pregnant and worried about something.

Toward the end of the show the woman is in labor. And it is while in labor that we find out why she is worried. She is worried that the baby will be black –  the husband we have met is white. And we are suddenly part of her story, part of the drama unfolding onscreen. What is going to happen? The birth is imminent – what will the outcome be?

The midwife with complete authority reminds the woman that there is a baby coming whether she likes it or not: “I don’t care if it’s green, red, or orange. Your child’s heart rate is dropping, and I need you to start pushing. Now.”

In all the pain and work that is childbirth, the baby is birthed….and the baby is black. It’s obvious that the husband, so excited by this pregnancy, so zealous for the welfare of his wife, so ready to welcome his son into the world, is not the father.

And we don’t know what is going to happen. Will he rage and accuse? Will he leave or throw her out? Will he demean and demand?

At this point there are two midwives, a doctor, the mom, and the perfectly formed, healthy newborn in the bedroom together. The husband is outside, taking a much-needed cigarette. The doctor heads outside and stands silently with him, revealing nothing, just waiting alongside. And finally the midwife comes to tell the husband he can come see her, come see the baby.

And so the dad rushes in.

All is silent as he looks at his son. None of us can breathe as he takes in the obvious. All of life hangs on this moment.

The man takes the baby in his arms. “I don’t reckon to know much about babies” pause “But I can see how this is the most beautiful baby in the world.”   

And so we breathe. For a moment we were the pregnant woman – would he accept or reject? Would we see mercy, or would we see justice? In that instant mercy and love triumphed. Sacrificial love, love that bears a cost, takes a stand; love that would forgive and move forward.

And we respond the only way we know how, with tears, relief, and a small sigh of gratitude escaping our lips.

9 thoughts on “Mercy Triumphs Over Justice

  1. I just got to this part in the book, and it’s even more beautiful on paper (er, uh, Kindle) than on film. The entire community thinks the father is just a fool not to see the child’s true parentage. The author, however, gives a different explanation: he is a Holy Fool, in the tradition of the Russian Orthodox church. Obviously I thought of you when I read that :) Any indication that he knew the child wasn’t his, would mark that child in the community. So he never gave any, out of love and sacrifice. Have you heard the term before? Like I said, just beautiful what he did.


    1. Oh Elizabeth – this comment caught my breath. I cannot wait to read it in print! Yes – there is a term Holy Fool. It stems from the life of a saint – a woman whose husband was an army officer and died unexpectedly. She gave up all her possessions and disappeared for a while. When she returned she wore his army jacket and people thought she was crazy but the more they listened to her the more they realized her wisdom and love for people. She gave away anything she was given and to this day people revere her. So that’s where the term originated – also ‘fool for Christ’ which sounds exactly what this man was. Giving up self in order to save another. this.


      1. Not exactly related, but I love how there are female saints in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. In Protestantism there are no saints, but the people we tend to revere most are men. :(


  2. Hubby and I both LOVE this show! Why am I not surprised that you do too, Marilyn?! ;-) We couldn’t wait for season two to start. The stories are so full of human compassion, putting charity before judgments. I was born in a maternity home in England during this same era; birthed by a midwife. It was attached to the hospital so doctors could be called if needed. It was a brilliant system. Watching these dramas shows how amazing midwives are.


  3. Very encouraging… hoping this characterizes the show.

    One minor quibble — the expression (from James 2:13) is actually “mercy triumphs over JUDGMENT” (at least in every version I know of). “Mercy and justice”, on the other hand, are seen as a positive pair in the prophets, e.g. Micah 6:8, cf. Matthew 23:23. Justice may be merciful and need not always be ‘judgment(al)’


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