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April 1, 2012–Deserving Death?

Contributed by Brian Hiortdahl, Chicago, IL


Warm-up Question

Do you wear a cross?  Why or why not?

Deserving Death?

The African nation of Uganda continues its ongoing debate on a proposed bill, reintroduced last month, that would make homosexual acts under certain circumstances punishable by death. An advocacy group in Uganda has now filed a lawsuit in Massachussetts, USA against a Christian pastor, claiming that he has violated human rights through his leadership in creating  fervent  local support for the popular bill:


Discussion Questions

  • What, if anything, do you believe is so heinous that it should warrant the death penalty?
  • What examples can you name from your country that illustrate difficult entanglements of religious belief and civic law?  What do you think about them?
  • Is homosexuality sinful?
  • What are the strengths and dangers of a democratic process that enacts laws based on the will of the majority?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 1, 2012 (Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday)

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Philippians 2:5-11

Mark 14:1–15:47

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection

This Sunday we will enter Holy Week, turning to read Mark’s Passion account of Jesus’ betrayal, trial, condemnation, and death.  The story happens quickly:  Jesus is charged, tried, convicted and executed in less than 24 hours.  All of this transpires despite conflicting evidence and the fact that the Jewish authorities who sentenced Jesus did not have the power, reserved by the Roman Empire, to enforce the death penalty.  Moreover, Jesus is found guilty of blasphemy, a crime against Jewish religious law (see Leviticus 24:16), not imperial law.  (Presumably Jesus would need to be sentenced for treason against the emperor.)  The Roman governor, Pilate, consents to the death penalty only after the offended authorities have sufficiently stirred up the crowd against Jesus.

Along the way, Jesus is betrayed by one of his disciples, denied three times by another, and abandoned by nearly everyone; he even cries out asking why God has forsaken him.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. once put it, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  In a final ironic twist, the real verdict in this case is spoken by a Roman soldier who sees Jesus on the cross, dead:  “Truly this man was God’s Son.”

Discussion Questions

  •  According to John’s gospel, the high priest Caiaphas views Jesus much like certain Ugandan leaders view homosexuals:  as a threat to the life of the whole society.  Caiaphas concludes, “It is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (John 11:50).  Is Caiaphas right?
  • What parallels do you see between the situation in Uganda and the passion story?  Are there other current situations in the world that remind you of what happened to Jesus?
  • Who are the scapegoats for society’s problems today?
  • Does following and enforcing God’s law ever conflict with doing God’s will?
  • When have you felt abandoned?  When have you regretted failing to stand up for someone else?

Activity Suggestions

Closing Prayer

God of unsearchable grace, the death and resurrection of Jesus give us hope that your hands can reshape the violent mix of human life, law, danger, and death into the story of our salvation.   Give us the courage to follow you wherever you lead, even when you are leading us to the cross.  Amen