12 “Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” ~ Isaiah 53:12
The vision given to Isaiah was one of a suffering servant. It painted an image of a man willing to be counted as the rest of us sinners, who would bring healing and salvation through his suffering. It also was a portrait of the Spiritual Works of Mercy as our suffering servant would ultimately forgive his accusers, captors, and a murderer who begged for forgiveness as he also hung on the cross. Through Isaiah, many people got to know the future plans of God and they found comfort in what they heard. This was especially true within Jewish population who began looking to the day when their messiah would come with their hearts filled with hope.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a religious conference where I heard three men speak about our broken Criminal Justice System. I heard numerous stories of how this system breaks down and crushes the human soul, how it constantly eats away at the humanity of the inmate, how the value of a person is reduced to zero, and this condition is how millions of people who are behind bars live each day of their lives. I heard the statistics of those who are on death row, how they are made to wait for the grim reaper to visit them, and how much money we are willing to spend to impose this arcane system we call justice. Here are a few facts;
1.) 2,220,300 adults were incarcerated in US federal and state prisons, and county jails in 2013 – about 0.91% of adults (1 in 110) in the U.S. resident population. ~ US Bureau of Justice Statistics
2.) African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one-quarter of the US population ~ NAACP, Criminal Fact Sheet (2016)
3.) As of January 1, 2016, there were 2,943 death row inmates in the United States. ~ “Death Row U.S.A. Winter 2016” (PDF). NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. January 1, 2016. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
4.) Maintaining each death row prisoner costs taxpayers $90,000 more per year than a prisoner in general population. There are 714 inmates on California’s death row. ~ Death Penalty Information Center
5.) California Spends Millions More on Capital Cases – California spends $90 Million dollars annually above and beyond the ordinary costs of the justice system in capital cases. $78 million of that total is incurred at the trial level (Sacramento Bee, March 18, 1988). In January 2003, despite a budget deficit, California Governor Gray Davis proposed building a new $220 million state of the art death row. ~ (“San Quentin Debate: Death Row vs. Bay Views, New York Times, December 18, 2004).
What We Are Spiritually Called to Do!
12 “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” ~ Matthew 6:12
We are called to enter into the wideness of our mercy on a daily basis! We are called to treat each other with: “love, kindness, and respect, because every person needs to be heard, to be loved, and to be respected”. (God’s Desire for Man, Reflection 1, April 18, 2009) On this point, I would like to say that in truth none of us are better or worse than the most murderous criminal because first we are all sinners, and second because “there are no monsters there are only people with illnesses who are called to carry more burden than the rest of us.” ~ Fr. Gregory Boyle, (2016). If you enter into the wideness of your mercy then you can begin to see people as God sees them. We are sinful and so His divine mercy was to wipe away our sin through the death of His only son. Jesus is the Messiah of forgiveness and mercy, for He knows your pain because he went through it Himself. Therefore, if Jesus could call on God’s divine mercy to forgive sin and to forgive offenses then so can we. Our God is a God of inclusion, “God takes inclusion seriously – acceptances and non-violence seriously!” ~ Boyle, (2016). Thus, if God can include everyone then so can we! For “God looks past our faults and sees our needs.” ~ Chubs, (2016). Again, if God can look past our faults then so can we do the same for each other! The true message behind the Spiritual Work of Mercy; “Forgive Offenses” is found in daily prayer for those who have hurt you in some way, to pray for the grace to forgive them in your heart, and if you find it exceedingly difficult to forgive then call upon God’s divine mercy to help you enter into the wideness of your mercy. Letting go of grudges, finding commonalities, always remaining in your heart and in your actions with the love and kindness of our savior, and remembering that we are all sinners, especially if your kindness is not returned.
One shining example of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, ‘Forgive Offenses’, is a man who was the first speaker at the conference I had attended yesterday in Anaheim California, Aqeela Sherrills who has dedicated his life to campaigning against gang violence and the death penalty. He currently lives in Watts, Los Angeles. In 1992, Sherrills brokered a peace agreement between the Bloods and the Crips and his “current focus is on what he terms the ‘Reverence Movement,’ a peace process that allows people to see the sacredness in one another.” ~ The Shift Network, (2016). The reason why I was so moved by his personal story was because he told the history of how he brokered this amazing deal of peace between the Crips and the Bloods in order to save thousands of young lives both in the gangs themselves but also innocent by standards within the community. Then he told the gripping events of the death of his oldest son Terrell who had his whole life ahead of him after just graduating Verbum Dei High School, (a High School the majority of my male students attend after graduating the 8th grade), so there was an immediate connection. Then Mr. Sherrills accounted the stunning events that lead to his son’s death. “See he went to a party and was shot to death!” Many people at the party witnessed Terrell die became angry because to see this is traumatizing. But after the trauma, many began calling for revenge. But what happened next is what truly caught my attention, see I was expecting the pain and grief to be all Mr. Sherrills could see, I would have expected Mr. Sherrills to want some sort of revenge. But instead, when Mr. Sherrills heard what was going on in his community on behalf of his son he drove over to the place this was going on and got out of the car and said, “This is not what my son’s legacy will be about! If you go by street justice which is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, then it will leave us all blind and toothless!” ~ Sherrills (2016). So here is a man of great compassion and mercy, because the next thing he said was just astounding for what we wanted was to meet the 17 year old shooter find out about his life, talk with his parents, find out if there was some sort of relationship between them be it bad or good, and then help heal this boy through forgiveness, through counseling, and spiritual guidance. He would do that because the murder was also a victim of the culture and of our society. In retrospect, Mr. Sherrills not just demonstrated the Spiritual Work of Mercy but he also was following in the footstep of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. It is role models like this which are leading a campaign to end the suffering of millions who are both victims but who are also incarcerated on death row.
My final point is this if Jesus could forgive a murderer then so can we. If Mr. Sherrills can forgive his son’s killer then so can we. If we all make it a point to change the way we perceive justice and throw away this double standard that says’s, “spiritually we believe every person has the right to life on one hand, then on the other hand freely say the government has the right to kill.” How does that even work? If you believe in the Right to Life, then killing a human being for any reason should be against your moral code! But yet many people past and present would go to church and say one thing and then stand in the courtroom proclaiming the exact opposite. There should be no special cases, there should be no exceptions, there should be no selling out when it comes to your Christian obligations and moral code, and when defending these principles you, in fact, are standing up for Christ himself who has already stood up for you through his death on the cross.
Please sign the petition that will abolish the Death Penalty in California. ~ Click Here
Also please visit National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for scheduled executions and please pray for them. ~ Click Here
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