musings on jesus and the death penalty

today’s gospel reading at mass is a powerful story from john 8: 1-11:

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area,
and all the people started coming to him,
and he sat down and taught them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery
and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him,
“Teacher, this woman was caught
in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

from the christian perspective, this is the strongest argument against capital punishment: jesus himself was against it; jeus himself died from the death penalty.

the cultural, legal and historical dimensions of living together as humans have condoned the death penalty. today’s gospel contextualizes this human desire to kill in the name of law and order– even if it has a religious base.

capital punishment can be a cloak for societal revenge and/or self righteousness.

through this account, jesus teaches us that part of the human condition is that we are all have sinned. because of this commonality, who are any of us to judge ultimately the worth of another? as mere humans, we are to leave the ultimate condemnation only to God.

this leads to a curiosity from the story: even jesus does not condemn the woman caught in adultery. is not this jesus himself the son of God who is God? does jesus not have the power and place to condemn? yes. but he chooses not to in response to this death penalty scenario. then, when would jesus choose the death penalty?

jesus’ choice for us is life– life to the full (john 10: 10). he stands against sin because it’s consequence brings sorrow and death. the story today ends with jesus’ mandate: “go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” the woman caught in adultery is given a new lease on life. jesus saved this woman; her life will never be the same.

but jesus himself died because of the death penalty. crucifixion was the means of putting criminals to death. it is no accident that there was drama from the civil and religious authorities that led to the condemnation of jesus. humans ought not judge God; only God can judge us.

if we love jesus, how could we not be sad and bothered by the type of death he endured? how could we condone anyone’s son or daughter suffer and die because of human constructs like the death penalty? how can we pray the stations of the cross and not shed a tear that jesus embraced that cross for us to live?

let us pray:

Merciful Father, we ask your blessing on all we do to build a culture of life. Hear our prayers for those impacted by the death penalty.

We pray for all people, that their lives and dignity as children of a loving God may be respected and protected in all stages and circumstances.

We pray for victims of violence and their families, that they may experience our love and support and find comfort in your compassion and in the promise of eternal life.

We pray for those on death row, that their lives may be spared, that the innocent may be freed and that the guilty may come to acknowledge their faults and seek reconciliation with you.

We pray for the families of those who are facing execution, that they may be comforted by your love and compassion.

We pray for civic leaders, that they may commit themselves to respecting every human life and ending the use of the death penalty in our land.

Compassionate Father, give us wisdom and hearts filled with your love. Guide us as we work to end the use of the death penalty and to build a society that truly chooses life in all situations.

We ask this Father through your Son Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen

( from )


  1. DNKC says:

    It won’t let me comment…

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

    1. frarthurcmf says:

      weird– here is your comment


    2. frarthurcmf says:

      strange– your comment showed up


      On Mon, Apr 4, 2022 at 6:39 PM Fr. Arthur's Musings and Conjectures wrote:



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