Jesus asks us to turn the other cheek, to love someone who has hurt us, to love our enemies.
Of course, he doesn’t just ask us, he showed us how. He suffered and died to save the very people who took his life.
Pope Francis underscored how Jesus “obeyed the most demanding of his commandments: that we love our enemies” in his Palm Sunday homily April 10.
Jesus teaches us “to break the vicious circle of evil and sorrow. To react to the nails in our lives with love, to the buffets of hatred with the embrace of forgiveness,” Pope Francis said.
His homily pointed in large part to the unfathomable violence unfolding in Ukraine. But it can apply to conflict on a smaller scale, too — how we handle personal grievances in each of our lives.
And it can apply to how we shape our criminal justice system.
The call to love our enemies is, as Pope Francis says, the most demanding of God’s commandments.
Family members of murder victims who advocate for an end to the death penalty know this well.
Ben Griffith began his work to abolish the death penalty after his brother was murdered in a random shooting in which four people were killed in 1986.
In a booklet about Kentuckians who opposed the death penalty after losing a family member to murder, he explains his opposition:
“If there is a creed we hang our hats on, it’s that God is in everyone. If you really do have that viewpoint, how can you kill somebody?”
In that booklet, called “No Need to Kill,” Ruth Lowe also explains that her brother was murdered. She was angry at first, but sought grace in the Eucharist. The death penalty, she discerned, leaves no room for redemption.
“I know that God can change people because God has changed me. I know that love is the answer. I know that God is love.”
Without God — without his love — Lowe adds, “People are capable of anything.”
They are even capable of crucifixion, which we see unfold in Scripture the last days of Jesus Christ.
Through the Stations of the Cross and presentations of the Passion during Lent, we have been meditating and praying through Jesus’ suffering and death in preparation for this Holy Week.
As we immerse ourselves in the rituals of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, let us recall the state-sanctioned killing of our Savior Jesus Christ.
In the midst of the mob, as Pilate checked and double-checked that Jesus’ death was desired, where was love?
Love suffered under a crown of thorns, stripped of his earthly trappings of dignity.
Today we don’t use crosses, we use sterile needles and poison to kill prisoners — people who are already securely maintained behind bars.
But the result is the same — almost. The difference is, Jesus didn’t need to change. He didn’t need to be redeemed, to seek God, to forgive or be forgiven. He didn’t need more time to learn to love.
Who among us doesn’t need more opportunities to learn to love better than we did yesterday? We should each have the time God provides for us.
The Kentucky General Assembly wasn’t ready to do away with capital punishment entirely this year. But it took another step in that direction during the 2022 session and Gov. Andy Beshear signed House Bill 269 into law April 8. The law protects people diagnosed with a severe mental illness at the time of their offenses from being executed.
The lawmakers, who joined together across political parties to make this happen, should be commended. This law isn’t likely to take Kentucky to full abolition, but it’s a step in that direction. And it’s a step in following Christ’s example.
On Palm Sunday, Pope Francis said the Lord asks people to show “compassion and mercy to everyone, for God sees a son or a daughter in each person.
He does not separate us into good and bad, friends and enemies. We are the ones who do this, and we make God suffer.”
The Holy Father also asked an important question:
“As disciples of Jesus, do we follow the master, or do we follow our own desire to strike back?”