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Death Penalty and Jesus

So the jurors have spoken and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will receive the death penalty for his participation in the Boston Marathon bombings. An article in the New York Times says that, "To many, the death sentence almost feels like a blot on the city’s collective consciousness." Massachusetts abolished the death penalty in 1984 and has not carried out an execution since 1947. Even the parents of a child who was killed in the attack made pleas to the government to not seek the death penalty.

So WWJD (What Would Jesus Do)? In order to find the answer to that question we must turn to our source for the teachings of Jesus, the Bible.

Hand Throwing StoneJohn 8:3-11 is a pretty clear teaching on how Jesus felt about the death penalty. In this Scripture the Pharisees bring a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery. The punishment for adultery was death by stoning. Stoning is a slow, brutal death. The person is partially buried in a hole and then a group of people throw rocks at the person until they are dead. The penal code of stoning in Iran says that the stone should not be so large as to kill the person with a few throws. So that's what this adulterous woman had to look forward to. The Pharisees put Jesus to the test by asking him what they should do with her since the Law of Moses said she had to be stoned.

Jesus responds, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." One by one each person dropped their stone and departed. Jesus says to the woman, "Where have they gone? Has no one condemned you?" She says, "No one!" I'm sure she was relieved. Jesus responds to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more." From this interaction I think it's pretty clear that Jesus did not condone capital punishment. But if that's not enough to convince you then let's look further.

Matthew 5:38-48 The Sermon on the Mount. If you have never read Matthew 5, you should stop now and go read it. It is the teaching of Jesus in one succinct sermon. The Law of Moses as we just learned required capital punishment for crimes. Jesus quotes an "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" from Exodus 21. He says,

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Here we have Jesus quoting part of the Law of Moses that says for any crime committed the punishment must be equal to the crime (and eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth). Jesus overrides that Law and says that followers of him should not resist the one who is evil. If someone slaps us then we should offer the other cheek, if one sues us for our coat, give them our shirt as well, if someone forces you to do something like walk a mile then willingly go two miles.

Jesus then goes on to quote Sirach 12:1-7 in verse 43. Some teachers taught that a Jew should only love or help their fellow Jew and to hate anyone who wished harm to them. Jesus teachesStone Forgive us that we are to love our neighbors AND our enemies. We are commanded by Jesus himself to love our enemies and pray for them. He goes on to say that if we only love those who love us, what reward do we have? Even the Gentiles and tax collectors love those who love them. As followers of Jesus we are called to a higher standard, yes it's hard, yes it seems unimaginable that we should have to love someone who wishes us dead but that's what Jesus said.

There can be no mistake that Jesus taught that, we as followers of him, should never under any circumstance return evil for evil. Instead we are called to return evil with love, prayer, and forgiveness. This doesn't mean however that we just allow an evil person free reign to do as they wish but we must remember their life is just as valuable in God's eyes as we are.

So let us do as Jesus instructed us and pray for our neighbors in Boston and also those who wish us harm. Let us pray for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and for those who were harmed in the bombing. Let us pray for healing and forgiveness. Let us pray for peace and for and end to violence. LET US PRAY!

 

Forgive Stone image from When one teaches, two learn blog

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