In this season of Eastertide, the newspaper headlines cause me to remember that my Lord and Savior, the risen Christ, was the victim of capital punishment. Jesus’ death came at the hands of the State and with the apparent approval of a great many. Even though he had grave doubts about Jesus’ actual guilt, the Roman Governor Pilate gave assent to his execution. Jesus’ death was cruel by any standard, but by the standard of the Roman Empire in the first century, it was not unusual.
The blood lust of “the crowd” is a major feature of the Passion story. Governor Pilate offers to release Jesus, but the crowd insists, “Crucify him!” On this all the Gospels agree. Horrible as crucifixion was, it seems to have had the approval of the people Pilate listened to. By the end of the day on Good Friday, it appeared that the people’s lust for blood had the final say.
I hear echoes of the Gospels in the way the State of Arkansas has attempted to set up a conveyor belt of death. The Governor in that fair state attempted to kill eight prisoners in eleven days. Apparently, he needed to fill all eight coffins before the State’s supply of midazolam had reached its expiration date. Governor Pilate had a similar propensity to execute people in batches. That’s why there were three crosses on the hill called Golgotha.
I am thankful that the courts threw a monkey wrench into Governor Asa Hutchinson’s killing machine, but I take no solace in knowing that a majority of Arkansians probably support his effort. True, a few are aghast, but crowds have not stormed the capitol demanding a return to something approaching sanity.
One wonders where the Christians are.
Nor do I find consolation in the fact that the same thing hasn’t happened (yet) in Florida. Recently, Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced that she would not seek the death penalty in any case. This is, of course, her prerogative under state law, and she has good reasons for her decision. She’s dead right when she says that the death penalty serves neither the interests of the community or the cause of justice. Would that Governor Pilate – or Governor Hutchison — had such insight and courage.
As for Florida’s Governor Scott, he has taken 23 capital murder cases away from Ms. Ayala, and turned them over to a prosecutor who does not share Ms. Ayla’s aversion to execution. This is no surprise, coming from a Governor who has signed more death warrants than any of his predecessors since the death penalty came back into use in 1977.
In a recent online meditation, Richard Rohr writes about the death of Jesus, and how his death “takes away the sin of the world.”
Jesus takes away the sin of the world by dramatically exposing the real sin—ignorant hatred and violence, not the usual preoccupation with purity codes—and by refusing the usual pattern of vengeance, which keeps us inside of an insidious quid pro quo logic. In fact, he “returns their curses with blessings” (Luke 6:28), teaching us that we can “follow him” and not continue the spiral of violence. He unlocks our entrapment from within. (https://cac.org/)
It’s clear to me that we are indeed trapped in a pattern of vengeance. As Easter people, we know in our hearts that there is a better way.