By Deacon Denny Davis
St. Agnes Parish
Sunday, Nov. 3, was the 31st Sunday of ordinary time in the church. We read from the Gospel of Luke about the story of the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, who went out on a limb (the Jews hated tax collectors) to find Jesus and like all of us. Jesus offers to come to his house, which is to say Jesus enters his heart, and Zacchaeus says yes. This transforms Zacchaeus to do justice to those he has wronged. (LK. 20:27-38)
At the beginning of 2013 I was asked and accepted the work of director of South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (SDADP). Our intention is to repeal the death penalty from South Dakota law.
The execution of a human being is, in my opinion, legalized murder. It is taking the life of a person who has taken a life of another. The death penalty is not about what the person who committed the crime has done. The death penalty is about what we do as citizens and as Christians. It’s in my struggle to follow the lord that I agreed to take on this task.
The Old Testament reading from this same Sunday was from the Book of Wisdom:
“You have mercy on everything because you can do everything. You overlook all of our sins. You love everything that you have made. You loathe nothing that you have made. If you had hated it, why would you have made it? How can a thing remain in existence unless you want it to or be preserved had it not been called forth by you? You spare all things because all things are yours, oh Lord, lover of life. Your imperishable spirit is in everything.” (Wis. 11:22-12:2)
Sister Helen Prejean, the author of “Dead Man Walking” says, “We are better than the worst thing we have ever done.”
Like Jesus, this reading from the book of Wisdom shows us a God of mercy, compassion, and love even for the worst of sinners. Who are we to say who should live or die? Only God has that right. Wouldn’t we be more true to our faith by giving the worst of criminals a life in prison sentence to give them a chance to be reconciled rather than killing them?
Zacchaeus was a criminal in the eyes of the Jews and Jesus gave him another chance. I think we would not only be better Christians but better citizen of South Dakota, too.
St. Luke in the last verse of the Gospel says: “The son of man has come to search out and save what was lost.” Can we then, who are called to Discipleship, do any less?
In January of 2014 at the next session of the South Dakota Legislature, we will present a death penalty repeal bill. I hope that all who read this will join us in this effort and write your Representatives in the House and Senate as well as the governor. The state is killing in our name and in our name may our voices be heard to stop this violence.
If you have any questions you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.