Thursday, March 8, 2012

We Released The Wrong Person

Mark 15:15

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

Gov. Haley Barbour was heavily criticized for pardoning nearly 200 prisoners before leaving office which included four murderers. When I first heard it I was alarmed and outraged that he would release murderers but after reading an excellent article in the Huffington post on why he released them, I had to change my paradigm.

Pardons clash with this recent history and cause a kind of philosophical whiplash. They shouldn't. We are also a people who claim to be predominantly Christian and believe in mercy and redemption. Christian or otherwise, most of us extol second chances. With punishments as draconian as ours have become, second chances can literally be the difference between life and death, being an active or absent parent, prosperity or poverty. The pardon power is often the only remedy for those who have been unfairly or excessively punished in the harsh and inflexible sentencing system we have spent 30 years building. Pardons and commutations can correct some of these injustices. They grant forgiveness when, sadly, we forget to be merciful. Our founding fathers included the pardon power in our Constitution for precisely this reason. They bet on us going too far in our zeal to punish and created pardons as a safeguard for those on the receiving end of our excess.

Obviously, Gov. Barbour didn’t do this to please the general population. With over 2.3 million people imprisoned and 60 billion a year spent on imprisoning people, it was not for popularity. Instead, Gov. Barbour believed that these prisoners were truly reformed. Our Lust for punishment has overridden our belief that humans can be redeemed after failing. Could it be that Governor Barbour released the right prisoners but we release the wrong ones? We imprison crack dealers while releasing crooked executives on Wall Street. We imprison poor inner-city teens trying to survive by being in the drug game through our war on drugs but fail to impeach a president who lied about weapons of mass destruction and caused thousands of young people from America to die in a war that wasn’t necessary.

Governor Pilate had the opportunity to release a prisoner for Passover. He wanted to release Jesus because they knew it was out of envy that the Jews had handed Jesus over. Knowing that Jesus was innocent, (his wife had warned him not to condemn him because she had a dream that he was innocent) and he had a good reputation for healing and helping people, the Governor believed the people would make the right decision. Instead the people fell for the propaganda of the conservative priests and chose murderous Barabbas instead of the innocent Jesus.

Gov. Pilate still had a chance to release Jesus because he had the authority to do so but because of political pressure to please the people he punked out and picked Barabbas. How many times have we released the wrong person?

We release the wrong person when:

1. We succumb to peer pressure. Maturity comes when you don’t allow a mob mentality to form your opinion, rather you think critically and make a spirit led decision on the facts.

2. Believe the propaganda. There is so much right and left wing spin on the news that you have to make sure you properly discern what the truth is. Always look at the truth behind the news.

3. Don’t follow wise counsel. Pilate’s Wife told him that Jesus was innocent because of the dream she had. He knew Jesus was innocent but he didn’t listen to the right people.

4. More concerned about status than justice. Pilate wanted to be elected again so he gave into the people. We have to love God more than we love our positions.
People Pleasers. The early apostles said, “It’s more expedient for us to please God than to please men.” We can save ourselves a lot of inner grief when we please God over people.

Dear God,

Help me to hear you above the crowd. Give me the ability to see through propaganda to see truth and when I know the truth, the truth shall set me free.

In Jesus Name,

1 comment:

  1. Rev. Stacey,

    I rejoice in Isaiah 9:6, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his (my emphasis) shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." If we are going to uphold the sanctity of life, we must do it from the womb to the tomb. Christians can't be as arbitrary as the utilitarian and situationalist, voices crying loudly in the wilderness on abortion issues yet voices deafeningly silent at the other end of the spectrum. Wars lead to death, and when we send young citizens into war, we are in effect sentencing death in many cases.

    God administered the death penalty. He did it in Egypt, and the death angel killed all the first born not under the blood. He did it in the wilderness. Moses and Aaron (Numbers 20:22-29) were not allowed to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land (Numbers 20:1-13). Moses disobeyed. He struck the rock instead of speaking to it. All of the adults died there, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, due to their disobedience and unbelief (Deuteronomy 1:34-40). And at other times, God's verdict was death.

    Death in the hands of a just God is just punishment. However, death in the hands of mere mortal man is often cruel, unusual, and unjust punishment. Case in point. In January 2003, Illinois Governor Ryan overturned the convictions of 167 people on death row, commuting the sentences of 164 to life in prison. Four people received full pardons. The evidence proved their confessions were tortured out of them at the hands of a corrupt Chicago police department. Not all of the people were African Americans, but the majority was men with the exception of three. The legacy of slavery and Jim Crow discrimination still haunts us. It is manifested nowhere like it is in a criminal justice system where African Americans historically have been disproportionately incarcerated and with harsher sentences. Until, as the prophet Amos declared, justice can roll down like waters in the courts, I am one Christian who won't be advocating for the death penalty quickly.