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Letting Go of Desensitization

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Editor’s Note: Missioner Jeff Sved reflects on the implications of the cross and its significance in today’s world.

Today, Christians worldwide remember the death of Jesus.

But let us not remove this execution from its context. Have we become so used to the “glorified crucifixion” that we fail to remember that Jesus was historically the most-famous public execution?

Try once, to say the Nicene Creed, but replace “crucified” with “executed.” “He was executed under Pontius Pilate. He suffered, died, and was buried.”

Has a different ring to it, right? But maybe it is a necessary reminder of the reality of capital punishment.    

Imagine for a moment the drastic change in the past two thousand years of art if Jesus had been stoned, like Stephen? Or beheaded like his friend, John the Baptist? Or since Jesus was crucified under the Roman Empire (i.e. viewed as a political threat), we could interchange any number of groups in power eliminating perceived threats. Imagine Jesus being led into a gas chamber in Nazi Germany or Jesus lynched in the 1960s US South.

Imagine looking beyond the altar during mass and seeing a corpse dangling from the rafters. Most people would find this image disturbing. But then why aren’t they upset by the image of Jesus on the cross?

We’ve become accustomed to the image of Jesus on the cross. Perhaps we have even over-romanticized it and have allowed it to desensitize us to the point that we forget that the cross is ultimately an image of the execution of an innocent man.

This has struck me over and over again during the past three years of celebrating the Triduum in Bolivia, where Good Friday is emphasized over Easter. The glory of the resurrection (and the overly glorified cross) are not the focus. Instead, here we identify with the suffering Jesus.

As we identify with a God that can understand the fullness of physical suffering, Good Friday has become an opportunity to reflect on all the other innocent lives that are condemned and executed.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center Innocence Project there have been 156 prison inmates since 1973 who were lucky enough to be exonerated while awaiting execution. 

I won’t use this space to debate the existence of capital punishment in the US (though you should be aware whether it is legal in your state), but 3+ people sentenced to death and thankfully found innocent previous to their execution is too many for me.  

Too many innocent yet condemned to death. Can we also seek to identify with them as well as Jesus? When we mark ourselves with the sign of the cross, we are marking ourselves for death in solidarity with the crucified. 

Reflection Question: Today, can we also identify with the almost 3,000 inmates in the US awaiting their own form of crucifixion?

Featured image: adaptation of photo by Pixabay user MartinStr – labeled for reuse

Jeff Sved served in Cochabamba, Bolivia, from 2013-2016. His main ministry was working with inmates in seven prisons throughout Cochabamba.

Prior to joining FMS he served in Wilmington, Del., with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry teaching math in a prison and teaching English to members of the Latino community. Originally from Pittsburgh, Penn., and a graduate of Villanova University.