As I sat at the table this morning, drinking my coffee and doodling on the day old newspaper, I found myself sketching three wooden crosses representing Jesus’ death. Upon reflection, this reminded me that Jesus was sentenced to death by the state. He spent his last few days on death row. Put there by a jury of his peers and sentenced to death.
If Christ would have made his return today, would he now be on death row? Probably. All of the early disciples of Jesus were jailed and put to death, not outside of legal means, but through a state-sanctioned process.
As modern Americans we like to feel removed from these practices. We believe we rationally superior with evolved systems that justify right from wrong. Any look at our current justice system will tell us we are far from perfect.
In the fall of 2011, I completed my jury duty and sat on two first degree murder trials in the City of Richmond. These trials didn't make the news or garner any outside debate, but in the course of approximately 10 hours combined, 12 city residents – a jury of peers – were asked to decide the fate of two men’s lives.
|John Marshall Courts Building, Richmond, Virginia|
As a follower of Jesus, I've got a problem with this system because it makes me think, could I have been a member of the crowd calling for Jesus’ death?
When Jesus was dying on the cross, he asks for forgiveness of those persecuting him, and the men being persecuted alongside him that day. If Jesus forgave in that moment, and me through his death, how can I not be called to forgive others?
In the Richmond cases we, the jury, found both defendants not guilty. One acting in self-defense and for the other we had reasonable doubt. This is not to say that all crime should be without penalty. If we aspire to foster healthy relationships in our society, then boundaries with penalties are necessary.
But, in light of issues raised in the deaths of Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and countless others, followers of Jesus need to ask harder questions of state sponsored killing. If Jesus exists within all of us, then what are we doing? Are we with Jesus on the cross or in the crowd calling for his death?