COMMENTARY Books of numbers, translations, alternatives, aspirations and justice: Time for mercy, not sacrifice

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Ten Commandments include an admonition often translated “Thou shalt not kill” – alternatively, “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13, NAB)

This directive from the One Who made us, some contend, should in these days preclude use of capital punishment, which is obviously the Ultimate Sanction for systems based in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Yet, the Holy Bible includes words pointing to a penalty of death for some crimes.

In traditional interpretations, for capital punishment, the Hebrew Testament does not fundamentally contradict the New Testament to which Christians cling.

That tradition is the basis for much of American law. No surprise, the U.S. Constitution explicitly makes provision for death penalties, including in the Eighth Amendment.

However, the penalty of death is not required – hence the roughly half-and-half split among the 50 states in this matter.

Words, numbers, and meaning(s), have rattled around the gray matter of many of us in Oklahoma these past few months. We will soon reach the end — or perhaps a fresh start? — in a matter now dominating news and conversation.

Interpretations of Scripture, I believe, best follow those who say we must honor the whole, even (perhaps especially) when there are matters unbelievers assert are “contradictions” among the various authors of the Bible.

The same “Old” testament allowing death as a punishment includes these words, cited with some force in recent weeks by Rev. Adam Leathers, a leader of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP):
“Only on the testimony of two or three witnesses shall a person be put to death; no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.” (Deuteronomy 17:6, NAB)

I am among those who have encouraged Gov. Mary Fallin to grant another 60 days to attorneys for Richard Glossip. Those lawyers, including Don Knight, have introduced levels of doubt about the validity of Glossip’s conviction in a murder-for-hire case.

Their work amounts to “a web of doubt” about Glossip’s guilt. In any case, his conviction is based on testimony from one man – the admitted killer.

Now, just days before Glossip’s date with a lethal injection, as a brother in our Lord, I call on the state’s top ranking officer to act contrary to thus-far stated intentions.

Reflect on these additional prophetic words from Scripture: 

“For it is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6) “Loyalty” in the text can also be rendered as “mercy” – as in the classic King James Version and the New International Version.

From personal memory: a summer press conference. The Capitol broadcast room was quite warm as a swarm of reporters listened to advocates for Richard Glossip.

References from some on that day, and in the weeks since, were made to the Beatitudes of Jesus, asserting the state would be better served if we had a Beatitudes monument rather than a Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol grounds.

My thoughts during this process before Glossip’s scheduled execution (Wednesday afternoon, September 16) have returned to a Saturday afternoon in Israel, at the Mount of Beatitudes during my only trip to the Holy Land.

That was in October 2013. It became one of the most memorable Sabbath days of my life.

As I gazed across the Sea of Galilee, there was haze to the east and the north. The sun shone through the misty warmth, although it was not too hot.

Traveling companions visited a Chapel atop the spot where many believe Jesus preached the words recorded in Matthew 5: 3-12 (with an alternate version in Luke 6:20-22).

I stole away to a corner of the summit where fellow Catholics, mostly from California, prayed during a Mass celebrated by a Franciscan priest. Franciscans are those who follow the model of Francis of Assisi, a not-so-simple man of the Thirteenth Century (Italy). His best-known prayer included a reflection that in “pardoning we are pardoned.”

To the Beautitudes (eight in Matthew; four in Luke with parallel admonitions) my mind has wandered often in recent weeks, fused with memories from that mount.

I don’t know what Richard Glossip did, or did not do, at or around the time of Barry Van Treece’s murder in 1997. I don’t even know what Justin Sneed, the admitted murderer, did. He’s given at least eight different versions about Van Treece’s death over the past 19 years or so.

I do know there is doubt surrounding Glossip’s conviction, about which there is a book or two or three to be written. 

The only thing certain is that Glossip’s guilt is uncertain.

With all my heart — appealing to the totality of Scripture and Tradition — I petition (beg might be a better word) Mary Fallin to use her just powers as our state’s chief executive to grant in this case mercy, not sacrifice. I hope she will also support a new look at the entire case in competent courts or panels. Therein lies loyalty to shared American traditions.

Dear Mary:

Give Don Knight and his competent, serious and ethical colleagues 60 more days to study things previously unseen and unheard. Like you and I, they seek rough justice in one corner of this fallen world.

Your friend, Pat.

Editor’s Note: Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptural References are from the New American Bible (NAB) translation, Revised Edition, 2011.