As a kid I was obsessed with justice. My least favorite thing at school was “group punishment”—you know, when one snotty kid disobeys your art teacher one too many times and she turns out the lights and makes the whole lot of you put your heads down on your desk for the whole art class like you’re all ruffians instead of letting you paint, like the civilized human children most of you are. (I’m not bitter about this or anything. Ok, maybe a little.)
I was an equal-opportunity justice fiend, too. No one was safe from the wrath of young Audrey—not even myself. I remember watching Fight Club with my brother and some friends, even though I wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies when I was 16. I got home and tried to go to sleep but couldn’t. Tortured by the remembrance of my errant ways that evening, I ran downstairs to my parents’ room and blurted out the truth. They grounded me, and my brother, from seeing our friends for two weeks. I didn’t even regret it—justice was served.
I can laugh about it now, but it has taken many years of growing up, good counseling, and a long journey out of fundamentalism to infuse me with the gift of mercy in light of that strange justice of God’s—the cross of Christ.
I was listening to public radio the other day and they were hosting a debate about the death penalty in America involving several questions—firstly, whether it should exist at all, and secondly, in the wake of several recent botched executions, which method would truly be most humane. Though several of the panelists disagreed about the answer to the first question, most agreed on the answer to the second—a highly trained shooting squad. Executioners are not at present highly trained or skilled in the field, and so a skilled marksman shooting a death row inmate would be quicker, more painless, and less risky.
Even as I type this words I am nauseated. I am nauseated that we live in a world where we even need to debate this. I believe that the death penalty is wrong and we should not apply it—that even a rapist or a murderer ought not to have his life taken by force, because he too bears in his body and soul the image of God. (Or her/she, of course.)
You are probably wondering why I am ranting about the death penalty right now! Well, then, I’ll tell you.
“The author of life, you put to death.”
Apparently, we’ll even put God to death, so it might be worth considering that our our judgment on the death penalty is a little skewed. The thing is, we get all hung up on vengeance, retribution, and an eye for an eye, blah blah blah—but God’s justice now apparently looks like Jesus (God) hung up to die for all to see. His own life, laid down freely, and His blood on our hands—the O, so precious Blood He bled for imperfect, broken, fatally flawed us—that same Blood offered to us each day at the altar of the Mass.
How soon we forget.
Today’s readings do nothing if not convict me of my own utter need and dependency on that Sacrifice, and on the mercy of God. I pray I’ll show it to everyone I meet, from down the street to death row.
Pray the Scripture Micah 6:8—ask the Lord how to see justice in light of the cross of Christ, and ask Him to help you love mercy.
Audrey Assad is a wife, mother and musician. You can find out more about her here.