By Mary Kate Masterson, Mercy Volunteer Corps
It is easy to look at people on death row and view them as monsters. It is easy to just look at the horrible crimes for which they were convicted and ignore their humanity, but we, as Christians, are called to so much more than this. We are called to look at someone on death row and see them as a whole person who has done both good and bad things. We are called to see their dignity and worth as human beings and children of God. We are called to look into their faces and see the face of Christ.
I was recently listening to a coworker speak about his time on death row. He shared that he had watched so many of his friends get killed. Most of them were just kids. This is the heartbreaking truth that we try to ignore: that the men and women on death row are people. We can turn away and only look at their actions that caused such pain and destruction, but when we look closer, we see that these people are human beings with the ability to love and to feel pain just like us.
Jesus was condemned to die just as the men and women on death row have been condemned to die, and He loves them regardless of what they have or have not done. When Jesus was hung on the cross, he looked at the men beside him who had been sentenced to death along with him, and he saw their humanity. He saw beyond their sins, and he saw that their hearts were capable of so much more.
This kind of love is not easy when we see the pain that their actions have caused, but this pain cannot be healed through more killing. Our society must learn the value of healing and rehabilitation for everyone affected by violent crime.
So how can we live out this call to compassionate mercy?
We can strive to understand the full person who committed a crime before we judge their actions. We can learn about the people on death row and get to know their humanity. We can support a criminal justice system that values healing and restoration over punishment and retribution. We can stand against executions that kill in order to show that killing is wrong. We can reject dehumanizing language that attempts to disrespect each individual’s dignity and reduce them to their worst sins. We can live out the spirit of Mercy by loving unconditionally and allowing people to be more than just their mistakes.
God doesn’t just call us to love others when it is easy. He asks us to look at the pain and suffering in the world and continue to love anyway.
“Mercy is more than Charity—for it not only bestows benefits, but it receives and pardons again and again—even the ungrateful.” – Catherine McAuley
Mercy Volunteer Corps member Mary Kate Masterson is currently serving with Witness to Innocence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Witness to Innocence empowers exonerated death row survivors and their families to be leaders in the abolition movement.