Lent: The Death Penalty
30 They answered, “If he had done nothing wrong, we wouldn’t have handed him over to you.” 31 Pilate responded, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your Law.” The Jewish leaders replied, “The Law doesn’t allow us to kill anyone.” (32 This was so that Jesus’ word might be fulfilled when he indicated how he was going to die.) 38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. After Pilate said this, he returned to the Jewish leaders and said, “I find no grounds for any charge against him. 39 You have a custom that I release one prisoner for you at Passover. Do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?” 40 They shouted, “Not this man! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas was an outlaw.)
John 18:30-40 CEB
The death penalty, alive and well throughout history. In our time, according to Amnesty International, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty. Yet In 2013, 22 countries around the world were known to have carried out executions. Other research indicates that in the United States, the majority of those executed were poor and 90% of these people could not afford a lawyer when they went to trial, having access only to a court appointed lawyer. The Death Penalty Information Center notes in a DPIC fact sheet that “since 1973 over 140 people in the U.S. have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence.” In our world today, many people face the death penalty for speaking the truth that those in authority don’t want to hear. In Jesus time, death, was a common penalty for many offenses. Jesus, like many today who await the death penalty, was poor in the things “of the world” yet dared to speak truth. He was brought before the Jewish religious leaders who saw him as a threat to their power and authority because his message was popular with the ordinary people of the day. In Jesus time, the Jews were permitted to stone those guilty of violating Jewish religious laws (Acts 7:57-59), but the Jewish leaders recognized that putting Jesus to death for a charge of blasphemy after a sham trial would cause a scandal and trouble among the people and with their Roman overlords.
In John 18: 30-40. The Religious leaders hand Jesus over to Pilate, a Roman governor, declaring him a criminal. Jesus, poor outcast, stands alone before Pilate. Pilate does not want anything to do with this religious squabble, and tells the Jewish leaders to “take him and judge him by your own law” (vs 31). The Jewish leaders reveal their motive for handing Jesus over to Pilate saying “we have no right to execute anyone” (vs 31) As John’s account continues, Pilate questions Jesus. They go back and forth over what is the truth and what is the reality of Jesus “kingship” Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world but from another place where he has servants who would fight to prevent his arrest by the Jewish leaders. Pilate says, “You are a king then! “ (vs 37) Jesus’ reply is that Pilate calls him a king. Jesus lets Pilate know that he was born into this world to testify to the truth. Pilate retorts “What is truth?” Pilate then goes out to the Jews gathered there letting them know he finds no basis for the charges against Jesus. However, knowing the tradition of releasing a prisoner to the Jews at the time of Passover, he offers to release Jesus, “the king of the Jews” to them. The crowd screams for Barabbas to be released. Thus Jesus, stands, divine, but fully human, without a defender, convicted on false charges and handed a death sentence.
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Dear Heavenly Father,
We your children wrestle with and disagree with each other concerning issues of life and death. Keep the life and death of Your Son, our Savior, in the forefront of our thoughts and actions as we wrestle with these concerns, accepting that the power of both life and death belongs in your hands. Amen.
Stephanie is an ordinary person, family member, and nurse. For 20 years she was an active member of Amnesty International.
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