Death Penalty Poster
PAINTING SUBJECT: Jesus, an Innocent Victim of the Death Penalty
DESCRIPTION: An image of the Crucified Jesus, the most famous Innocent Victim of the Death Penalty, is portrayed to the left. The face of Jesus is covered by his hair, matted with blood—suggesting that perhaps another identity is also possible. His Word in Matthew 25 states: “Whatever you do the least of my brothers or sisters, you do to Me.” He therefore identifies with every other innocent who would be executed by virtue of a death penalty.
A mystical veil of prison cell bars comes between this Lamb of God and the viewer. This may come as a shock, because many who recall the Death of Jesus on Good Friday thousands of years ago do not think of Him as a common prisoner, or of his death as an execution at the hands of a High Court or Public Officials. It is rather thought of as the Great Act of Redemption for us all, one freely accepted out of Love for each person as an individual. And indeed, in the Divine design, that is what it was. Yet, in the human situation, he was allowed to be identified by the officials of his day as a criminal worthy of the most cruel form of Roman execution: crucifixion.
The fact that because the Love of Jesus led Him to make of His unjust execution an offering of His Life to the Father in the Divine process of Redemption in no way changes the fact that as a human process, his death represents a grave injustice at the hands of public officials. Some legal experts who have examined His trial have declared that it was probably one of the most corrupt trials ever held in recorded history. It involved false witnesses, a violation of the rules regulating criminal proceedings and political pressure upon a public official to act in favor of special interests instead of in favor of justice.
To the right is the faceless figure of Pontius Pilate. In Matthew 27:24 we read that Pilate, having examined Jesus declared, “I find no fault in Him.” Then he took a basin of water and washed his hands in an attempt to rid himself of any responsibility for the death of this innocent man, as he said: “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him.” This futile attempt did not change the fact that he alone had the power to act in the name of justice. His was the final responsibility.
But the crowds before him clamored for the death of Jesus, so as the Roman Governor of Jerusalem, he chose to act in favor of political expediency instead of justice. Declaring Jesus to be innocent, he allowed Him to be crucified anyway. In doing so, he failed in his responsibility before God and before society. His action has become a classic example of political compromise at the expense of principled exercise of justice. And this act of political compromise would eventually lead to the collapse of his political career.
In the center of the painting, the image of the Capitol and Seal of the Great State of Texas reminds us that the same questions face the people of the Great State of Texas today as well as our elected officials. How many persons have been found to be innocent and released after spending years of their lives on death row waiting to die? How many innocents may have died or may still die at our hands? What will we do with the power we have over their lives? What will be our response to the facts before us regarding the failures of the Criminal Justice System truly to administer “justice for all” in the name of the People of the State of Texas? Finally, how will God and history judge us as we respond to these questions?
POSTER CAPTIONS: Jesus, the Lamb of God, was and is, according to Paul, the “Perfect Sacrifice” who once and for all paid price for all sin, for all time. He therefore states: “I paid the price.” And presents the question to the viewer: “How long shall they keep dying?” For those of us who claim to live in the Christian era, the question remains: “Do we have the right to continue to demand that a human being pay with their life for taking the life of another?” Jesus has done away with the principle of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”, in Matthew 5:38-39. The quote from Matt. 27:24 refers to the story of Pontius Pilate, the public official whose infamous gesture was an attempt to abdicate his responsibility for the death of the Innocent Man before Him as He allowed Him to go to His death.
GRAPHICS DESIGN: Signs FX, Cuero, TX
POSTER PRINTING: Graphix Unlimited, Victoria, TX QUE Imaging, Houston, TX Grunewald Printing, Corpus Christi, TX
SPONSORS: Peace and Justice Committee, Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio; Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, Victoria, and Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, Corpus Christi
POSTER NOTES: Sr. Elizabeth Riebschlaeger, ccvi
Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word
Peace and Justice Committee
San Antonio, TX