On Good Friday

From any perspective, it may not be possible to understand Good Friday. The human tradition of capital punishment has a long and dark history that probably originates in the obscure reaches of our history that even anthropologists and archeologists cannot fathom. Trying to answer the question of why we want to kill each other is a mysterious, if not enigmatic, pursuit that inflames emotions and raises questions about human life. The Romans were good at executing people, using various painful and horrifying methods of executing criminals, terrorists and other human detritus. Of course, their methods for determining such categories were a part of their law codes, and I am sure they were justified in having non-conformists eaten by wild animals, for example. Good Friday is about capital punishment, however, and I think that Christians, probably above all others, should be sensitive to the modern practice of capital punishment. Yet, living in Texas, a place that prides itself on its beliefs and plants churches everywhere, I find that this is often not the case, and our state officials have carried out more executions than any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. I know what people are thinking because I have also thought about this: the crimes these people have committed are so heinous that they don’t deserve to live anymore. How can you forgive a person who has used a pickax to kill another person? For this reason, however, the debate about the legitimacy of the death penalty is hot and full of conflict and polemics. The biggest problem with the death penalty, specifically, and capital punishment, in general, is that the result is irreversible. Justice, as we all know, is not handed out evenhandedly. We would like Lady Justice to keep that blindfold on and her scales evenly balanced, and I don’t know who lives in that ideal world, but I know I don’t. Innocent men and women are convicted of crimes every day in spite of the best efforts of judges, juries, prosecutors and defense lawyers. Good Friday shows me that an innocent man may be executed given circumstances beyond the control of even the judge. I would not ask for grace for a murderer, but I would suggest that that kind of punishment is not within our purview. Grace, forgiveness, these cannot be just words on a page. They must mean something to all of us, the imperfect people of this world. It’s true: this man was surely innocent.