On this great feast of Theophany, we celebrate Christ’s baptism, when the voice of the Father identified Him as the Son of God and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove. Epiphany reveals that the Savior Who appears from the waters of the Jordan to illumine our world of darkness is the God-Man, a Person of the Holy Trinity. He is baptized to restore us, and the creation itself, to the ancient glory for which we were created.
Tragically, our first parents turned away from their high calling and ushered in the realm of corruption that we know all too well. God gave Adam and Eve garments of skin when they left paradise after disregarding Him. Through their disobedience, they had become aware that they were naked and were cast into the world as we know it. Their nakedness showed that they had repudiated their vocation to become like God in holiness. Having stripped themselves of their original glory, they were reduced to mortal flesh and destined for slavery to their passions and the grave. Because of them, the creation itself was “subjected to futility…” (Rom. 8:20).
For the better part of a decade, I lived in Mansfield, Ohio. As a rust belt city, Mansfield had to reinvent its economy following its deindustrialization. The town of old factories pinned its hopes of revitalization on tourism.
The crown jewel of Mansfield’s tourist economy is the old Ohio State Reformatory. The Reformatory housed prisoners from 1896-1990. Known for its haunting architecture and the violence suffered by the inmates, today the Reformatory hosts tours, welcomes ghost hunting expeditions, and serves as a set for films like The Shawshank Redemption. When the Reformatory closed, the new Richland Correctional Institution opened less than three miles away. The RCI housed Ohio’s male death row inmates until 2005. Living near facilities associated with the violence of killing led me to reflect on capital punishment in practice and in scripture, especially the execution of John the Baptist.
The facts of John’s case are familiar. John was arrested for criticizing the adulterous relationship of Tetrarch Herod Antipas and his sister-in-law Herodias. The Gospel according to Matthew says that Antipas had imprisoned John and wanted to kill him. Antipas, however, feared public opinion. This alone indicates the arbitrary nature of capital punishment. His fear of the crowds prevented him from taking John’s life. If Antipas had been bolder or if John had not been so popular, the tetrarch might have summarily executed the Baptist without a second thought. Instead, he jailed the Baptist. While John languished in the dungeon, Antipas threw a party. Continue Reading…