Death of Jesus: Sacrifice vs. Execution

Savoldo,_crocifissioneThis year I have had the opportunity to discuss the Catholic Church’s teaching regarding the death penalty on a few different occasions. For those who are not familiar with the Church’s teaching on this matter, the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2263-2267 provides a helpful summery.

During each discussion with different groups of people, the same comment always came up: “Without the death penalty, we would not be saved.” The implication behind this comment is that the crucifixion of Jesus, an example of the Roman death penalty, was pivotal to humanity’s salvation. I have no quarrels that death of Jesus brought about our salvation, but this remark reduces his crucifixion to a mere execution. This presents a major problem.

Although the death of Jesus took the form of a Roman crucifixion and looked like a common execution to bystanders, the New Testament goes to great lengths to explain that Jesus freely gave his life out of obedience to the Father.[1] This distinction is so important that Jesus clearly spells it out to his disciples in John 10:17-18,

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father. (RSV)

Even though it appeared that the Roman judicial system had control over the life and death of Jesus, the Gospel of John gives us a different view. (continue reading…)

In God We Trust – A Reflection on Mt 6:24

Wikipedia.orgI recently came across an article by Antonine DeGuglielmo titled, “The Religious Life of the Jews in the Light of their Coins.” The article surveys recent studies in archeology and numismatology (the study of coins) to determine how ancient Jewish coins reflect the religious beliefs and practices of the Jews. As I read this article, two things in particular caught my attention.

First, DeGuglielmo begins by mentioning a limiting factor regarding the interpretation of coins. He states, “With coins, one deals with objects that are entirely official in character… [O]ne must bear in mind that in striking coins the authorities may have wished to spread their own views on a particular subject. Of their very nature coins represent an official attitude.”[1] In other words, since the authorities were in control of producing the currency, they could promote whatever images or attitudes they desired. It would not be hard to imagine the authoritative leaders abusing this control to spread their own political agendas, such as the silver Roman denarius hailing Tiberius Caesar as the “son of the divine Augustus.”[2]

Second, in light of the information above, it is noteworthy that many ancient Jewish coins depict religious images. For example, DeGuglielmo describes coins that portray the lulab and the ethrog, both of which belong to the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, in addition to the menorah. He goes on to describe several other motifs possibly present on Jewish currency: the Temple or a synagogue, the Ark of the Covenant, the table of shewbread and the screen of the tabernacle.[3] The use of these liturgical images on the Jewish coins show us what the Jewish authorities considered important and the values they sought to promote among the common people. Instead of trying to build up their own political leaders, they used their currency to remind people about their liturgies and worship of God. (continue reading…)