The state – my state – executed a guilty man yesterday.
“Justice,” many will say. But nothing like “justice” settles into my heart as the tale continues to tumble around unbidden in my consciousness. I don’t experience satisfaction, or restitution or recompense. Mostly, I feel an acrid pang over these several lives wasted…because we – my state and I – loved too little in days gone by.
There are other ways to weigh the weighty facts of the case, I suppose. But from what I’ve read, the man we executed was loved very little (if at all) when he was young. During his first 18 years, he lived in nearly two dozen different homes – often abandoned by his parents, frequently living under foster care. That’s a lot of bouncing around for a young ‘un to encounter. So perhaps it’s not surprising he didn’t learn much about love along the way.
He knew so little about love, in fact, that he could not recognize it when his victims treated him with uncommon kindness, generosity and respect. The murderer told arresting officers that his male victim – after handing over all the cash and jewelry in the house – even offered to write him a check. “That’s just how nice he was,” the murderer reported. And still he pulled the trigger.
Odd, isn’t it? Hard to imagine such a world-view – in which love is encountered as if it’s a foreign language, utterly bereft of its power to move a man’s heart. And yet, this is the very perspective formed by the state (my state)…in the man just executed by the state (my state).
Which is to say, I am evidently a citizen of (and participant in) a deeply-flawed system. Although I’d rather not admit it, my pangs of guilt over yesterday’s execution – and the double-murder that preceded it – may on some level be justified.
What, then, is a citizen to do? How am I supposed to address in any practical or effective way the societal defects that engender such grievous loss?
Jesus gives us a clue, I think, when he pastors Peter by the Sea of Galilee in the gospel story we heard this past Sunday. The Risen One’s suggestion is disarmingly simple: “Feed my lambs,” he says.
And then he says it again. And again.
It’s as if Jesus is saying, “you take action, Peter.” Do something loving, even if it seems small or inadequate. Don’t wait for a big program to provide the safety net. Feed the sheep – even if it’s only one sheep – yourself. Just do it.
That’s along the lines of what my Kairos teammates and I will be attempting to do this weekend, inside Menard Correctional Center. We’ll be feeding, and tending and listening to about two dozen incarcerated men – many of whom may be experiencing this simple sort of love for the first time in their lives. Please keep us in your prayers – asking the Holy Spirit to ensure that, even in our brokenness, we are up to the task.
Cover our Kairos retreat in prayer…please consider signing up for a half-hour slot on our Kairos Weekend Prayer Chain, by clicking here: https://bit.ly/3JL4KnM
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.