Christians around the world are turning their thoughts towards the execution in Jerusalem of the founder of their faith, Jesus of Nazareth. Gospel accounts tell of Jesus being betrayed into the hands of the Jewish authorities, and by them being handed over for torture and execution by the Roman governor. He was the victim of a Roman crucifixion; by no means a unique form of execution in the Roman World of the mid-first century. He was detained overnight before being tried before Pilate the next morning. On being sentenced to death he was savagely tortured and then made to carry the instrument of his own death to the place where he would be killed. For two thousand years the most potent image and the symbol of the Christian faith has been the cross upon which Jesus and other victims died. This means that the execution of prisoners has a central importance in the minds of Christians. It certainly does not mean that the death penalty is seen as something good to Christians. On the contrary, Jesus’ execution is understood as an injustice; an innocent man tortured and murdered by sinners. On Good Friday then we think of the death penalty.
In the United States it is reckoned that between three and five percent of those put to death by the criminal justice system are miscarriages of justice – mistakes; the execution of innocent people. This means that last year, of the thirty-five people executed in the US, almost two people were wrongfully put to death. Of the over three thousand people on death row in America, according to Amnesty International, ethnic minorities and men from poor backgrounds are disproportionately represented. We must conclude from this either that the poor and people from ethnic minorities are more likely to be criminal, or that the system is weighted against them. What parallels can be seen in this analysis with the execution of Jesus in Jerusalem? He was a poor man from an ethnic minority who was innocently condemned and put to death. In fact we might even say that it is fair to equate the execution of the death penalty in the States with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This killing, albeit it legal (like that under the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate), is abhorrent to the ethics of the Christian. Why does it continue – oddly enough supported by those more likely to describe themselves as Christian Pro-Lifers? Have they blasphemously decided that judgement is theirs?