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Although I am not Catholic, I have always appreciated the Pope’s stance on the issues of the day. How we treat the poor, the unborn, and divorce are all issues of the Pope’s leadership for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and many others, Christian, and non-Christian worldwide.
So when Pope Francis last month reversed the church’s position on capital punishment–stating it is “inadmissible” because it “attacks” the inherent dignity of all humans,” as reported in USA Today, an American newspaper, I listened.
“The Vatican said the pontiff approved a change to the catechism, which gives worshippers a go-to guide for official Catholic Church teachings on subjects ranging from the sacraments to sex. Previously, the catechism said the church didn’t exclude capital punishment “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” says USA Today.
My previous view of capital punishment is that it’s wrong to deprive another of her or his life, except in limited and extreme circumstances. My reason reflected the fact of racial and economic imbalances in those executions and the number of inmates on Death Row found proven innocent by organizations like the Innocence Project. I believed that some people, like terrorists who killed scores of innocents, though, deserved to die. Of course, their deaths would not bring those people back to life, but it gave me some satisfaction.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord,” Romans 6:23
But it wasn’t until a Facebook post on the page of a friend, a retired Methodist pastor in Indiana, that my view radically changed, like a slap in the face, being dunked in cold water, or an electric shock. He wrote simply “Kudos, to Pope Francis,” Then came the surprising words from a woman responding to his post: ” Try to remember that your salvation is the result of the death penalty.”
What? My life being spared? I have never killed anyone, stolen anything, or been arrested. What did she mean?
I had never thought of salvation–deliverance from God’s wrath– in comparison to capital punishment. I had been condemned to die, but by going to the cross, Jesus stepped up and took my place. Yet it seems a good comparison. In one the courts condemn an individual to death. In the other, God sentenced us to die ( the wages of sin, Romans 6:23) but loves us so much that He provides His only Son to die in our place.
Is there any greater love? “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend,” it says in John 15:13. Jesus set an example of this love when He followed the agonizing path to the cross. Without this sacrifice, no one would have eternal life.
Adam and Eve existed in a perfect world, but they chose to sin. As a result, they were forced from Eden to live in a world of hardship and the death of the physical body and the soul. The world we live in today.
How do you feel about capital punishment now? Does Jesus’ sacrifice affect your opinion? Is there a comparison between the two? For me, like the Death Row prisoner who gets a reprieve from the governor, I am so relieved and thankful. And I grant my fellow humans–any and all on them–a reprieve from death, no matter how gruesome, the number murdered, or the circumstances. They deserve punishment, but not death.
And I thank Pope Francis for pointing that out.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling,” 1 Peter 4:8
I admit it, I am not the most hospitable person on the world. I’m one of those persons who never learned to smile. Most of the time, I’m stone faced. I’m a proud introvert. I don’t mean to be standoffish, but sometimes I am.
But is that an effective witness for Christ? Was Jesus an introvert? How many opportunities to witness have you, and I, missed? For example, when Jesus was travelling through hostile Samaria and stopped by a well. He starts a conversation with a woman, then offers her “living water,” as told in John 4:10. A pretty extroverted act.
Clearly, Jesus was not an introvert. He often started conversations with strangers. And we must emulate Him. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
We must be bold in sharing! While screaming the gospel on a street corner may not be the best way to share, we do not want to be a closet Christian either. “But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in Heaven,” it says in Matthew 10:33.
We must be hospitable to others. Our kindness will create opportunities to witness.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” John 15:13
Who would you die for?
Would that decision be spontaneous, like your sister is drowning in a lake and you try to rescue her even though you can’t swim? Or have you already made the choice, such as if your family is ever in danger, you’ll gladly step in front of a bullet if that’s would keep them safe. Or a friend needs a kidney transplant, you volunteer despite the risk to your own health. Or a combat soldier who will follow orders even though he will be open to machine gun fire?
Jesus made the choice to die for us on the cross. Because gave his life so our sins are washed away and He serves as an intercessor for us in Heaven. What a friend is He?
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He made the choice to follow His Father’s decision that He be ransomed for our sin. “Father, if you are will, take this cup from me: yet not my will, but yours be done,” Luke 22:42.
Giving up your life is never easy, but “if you haven’t found something you are willing to die for, you aren’t fit to live,” says the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who gave his life for what he believed.
What would you die for?