"For almost 50 years, South Korean villagers have insisted that early in the Korean War, American soldiers machine-gunned hundreds of helpless civilians under a railroad bridge near a hamlet some 100 miles southeast of Seoul," read a front-page article in the New York Times.
"The politics of death is a bottomless pit that sucks everybody in.” This judgment, offered by a California attorney who has tried more than 100 capital cases, aptly summarizes the complicated arguments for and against the death penalty in American culture. After all, who can deny the horrors of a Ted Bundy or a Jeffrey Dahmer?
A half phrase from Augustine has challenged and inspired me for a half century: “God is like the nature he made.” It appears as a virtual throwaway line, quoted in José Ortega y Gasset’s History as a System (1941), in which Ortega adds a flourish connecting ideas about God with ideas about humans: the human “likewise finds that he has no nature other than
When a lawyer asks Jesus about eternal life, Jesus turns the question back to the lawyer, and the lawyer answers, citing scripture (Deuteronomy and Leviticus). The lawyer circles around one more time, this time asking a question with a history of interpretation: who is one’s neighbor? Jesus responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan.
As we struggle to stay alert to the constant demands of the needy, we pastors sometimes forget that we take for granted others in our congregations who seem strong and whole. This applies particularly to those men and women whom we instinctively count on as the backbone or the core of the congregation.
In 1 Kings, the storyteller sets the scene simply. Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. We have already been told a lot. We know that Naboth calls this beautiful valley home, that its name defines him and that he is Naboth the Jezreelite.
In my (southern) Baptist tradition, preachers don’t generally use the lectionary. If we come up with a decent reflection that’s somewhat related to one recognizable biblical passage, it’s been a good week. But these three passages together pack a powerful punch.
Repent or perish. I’ve worked my entire career to avoid using this phrase from Luke 13:5. I’ve been afraid that if the Christian message is reduced to these three words, people will hear in them only an angry God, a God who uses any excuse to punish us.
A. M. Stroud III, a former prosecutor in Louisiana, expresses regret for the role he played in sending Glenn Ford to death row in 1984. “I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning.” Stroud says he presented dubious evidence from a forensic pathologist, precluded black jurors from the trial (Ford, since exonerated, is black), and ignored the fact that the appointed defense attorney had never before tried a criminal or capital case. “I . . . hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford,” Stroud said in a letter to the editor of the Times of Shreveport. “But, I’m also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it” (ABA Journal, March 25).