Punishment Does Not Equate to Justice or, Jesus’ Weak Move in Mark 8

Last week Joshua Steven Durcho received sentencing for killing five people in 2009. The plea agreement avoided a trial in which the victims’ relatives would surely have relived the gruesome nature of the crimes. The Oklahoman relayed Rhonda Rust’s sentiments,

“The death penalty would not have made me feel any better,” said Rhonda Rust, stepmother of the murdered woman, Summer Rust, 25. “I thank God we did not have to go through a trial.”

Later in the piece one of the victim’s grandmother noted,

After the sentencing, Evynn’s grandmother, Crystal Franklin, of Oklahoma City, told reporters: “Justice is served as far as I’m concerned. … The death penalty is not automatic. … Do I want to have to come to court every time he appealed? No. That’s why I personally agree with what has happened today. I want it done so I could get on and try to pick up the pieces that I can.”

My friend Marty Duren asked the question on his blog, “What is biblical injustice?” The question is interesting in that it seems something of an apophatic way to get to, “What is justice?” That is, looking at the negative in order to state the positive. Or, more simply, it seems Marty is looking at injustice in order to arrive at justice.

N.T. Wright, in his video series based on his book Surprised By Hope, contends that justice in the Scriptures shows up when the victim is restored, reconciled, made whole. Such a vision challenges the way we tend to hear justice described in our culture.

We tend to think justice is served when punishment is meted out. Think of the oft-used phrase, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” But, punishment does not restore, reconcile, or make whole the victim. The Steven Durcho case illustrates that justice in the form of five consecutive life sentences does not bring back those who have been killed.

The grandmother who noted, “I want it done so I could get on and try to pick up the pieces that I can,” illustrates the desire for justice. She longs for restoration, reconciliation, to be made whole. Court systems do not bring justice; they mete out punishment for crimes committed.

Our difficulty lies in what to make of justice for those who died. It is here we hope for justice to come. That is, we hold out that in the end those who have suffered the indignities at the hands of another human being, or human system, will be restored, reconciled, and made whole in the justice to come. Generally our interest is to be assured perpetrators go to Hell. We fixate on punishment.

For Christians, that is part of our Christian hope. That is, in Jesus, God reconciles the world to himself – things above, in, and below. We hope this includes these instances where it seems justice cannot be done. We look for it to come – that is our eschatological hope.

That hope brought into the presence takes the form of people of peace who act in ways to help bring healing, restoration, reconciliation, and whole-ness to victims that remain. This is the way the Church, Christians, may participate in the eschatological hope in the present offering the hope to come.

When Christians gets mired in the divisive category “social gospel,” it seems we slug through unhelpful visions of justice. Our aim, in the Name of Jesus, is to bring to bear events that expose the very real ways God’s love is manifest as we work to point people to restoration, reconciliation, and whole-ness in the Word-Made-Flesh, in God with us.

Maybe we read through Mark 8, and Peter’s Confession at Caesarea Philippi, too quickly. Rather than Messiah figured in the minds of the disciples, and in the populist vision of the day, Jesus noted that he would suffer, be rejected, and die. Such identification with humanity seems intended to overtake the vision of strong power in the coming of Messiah and point to the identification with weakness.

Our move to follow Jesus, take up our cross, may well be to prepare ourselves to suffer with, face rejection by, and experience death with others in hopes our empathy illustrates the Divine move in Jesus of love toward others that brings about faith and the reconciliation of those experiencing damaged life, life as it is lived.

If I have been unclear, it may be the Percocet.

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About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.