Christians today rarely make a connection between the words “crucified” and “executed.” Years ago I had a discussion with a young flight attendant who corrected me when I said Jesus was executed around 32 CE. She was unfamiliar with the fact that scholarly literature prefers CE for Common Era as opposed to the older AD which stands for Anno Domini, “in the year of our Lord.” It does not stand for “After Death” as she assumed. She also corrected my use of the term “executed.” On this latter point, I really thought she was just being difficult. My mind went back to this conversation recently while reading “The Executed God” by theologian Mark Lewis Taylor. I realize now the young lady did not want to think of Jesus as an executed convict. But friends, Jesus was an executed convict, and there is little historical dispute on this point.
One would think Christians would be the first to “holler foul” when someone gets convicted on highly circumstantial evidence -- but typically this is not the case. Instead they rage on the name of the convict and rejoice in the administration of justice. The news is filled with sound bites and three minute reports that reinforce our desire to believe that the accused are guilty and that our “justice system” is functioning properly. The flow of information is generally controlled by law enforcement and the prosecuting attorneys who of course will affirm that they arrested and charged the right person.
If there ever was a “kangaroo court” it was the one that convicted the Messiah. The entire trial appears staged, complete with a handpicked crowd to rally for his execution.
Why this powerful desire to punish someone (anyone) for a crime? It can not simply be what common sense suggests, the mere desire for “just deserts” and the improvement of society. How do I know? How can I make this radical assertion? Because most people display a great desire to believe in guilt. People are furious when they think a single villain has evaded justice; but only slightly concerned about the possibility that thousands of people have been wrongly convicted. Most people are so overcome with anger that jury selection in high profile cases is often extremely difficult. Getting them to acknowledge the possibility that the real perpetrator might be at large while someone innocent is behind bars is tantamount to getting them to agree to give you their life savings. To be sure, there are numerous systemic reasons for these miscarriages of justice, including the “plea bargain mill” that facilitates the work of prosecutors and defense lawyers, interrogation techniques that resemble Japanese WW2 brainwashing and slap of Guantanamo Bay, and simple forensic errors – among other problems.
None of this however gets to the heart of the matter. From the very beginning we have sought a scapegoat, The Scapegoat, upon whom we could direct all our animosity, guilt, frustration, alienation, and fear of death. Jesus played the scapegoat for that angry mob at Calvary. Despite His parody, this spoof, of the scapegoating process, despite the obvious farce of innocent animals sacrificed and executed in substitution for guilty humans, despite the fact that God gave us the ultimate spoof scapegoat just outside of Jerusalem in 32 CE, we continue to lust for revenge and seek more scapegoats. We continue to ignore a malfunctioning justice system that has become a major source of housing in America. We continue to ignore the “Southern Strategy” -- practically invented by Richard Nixon’s campaign advisors -- that uses subliminal racial messages and racist code language, which plays into the scapegoating process that wrongly convicts many blacks and Latinos every year. And we ignore the effect of scapegoating that demonizes the opposing political party and its leadership. Perhaps if we can focus on Calvary, understanding the Cross as a thing to be carried, not a thing to be tied to someone else. Perhaps if we can believe in a God who is “through all and in all”(Eph 4:6) and in our Unity with this Higher Power, we can begin to see ourselves as a people capable of transcending the scapegoating process that has Satanically possessed “The System” as if it were the real Devil.
NIV Bible, Ephesians 4:6
The Executed God by Dr. Mark Lewis Taylor
Guided By The Faith of Christ by Stephen Kaufman, M.D.
Fields of Blood by Dr. Karen Armstrong
Examining Wrongful Convictions by School of Criminal Justice at Albany
(Carolina Academic Press)
Justice In America by J. Cheney Mason, Esquire