McAlester, Michael Smith & Jesus

McAlester, Michael Smith & Jesus April 1, 2024

Michael Smith is such a common name.  Indeed, there might be a dozen or more Michael Smiths in McAlester alone.  The commonality of such a name betrays the specificity of an upcoming execution.  You see, the Michael Smith that resides on death row at Oklahoma State Penitentiary (OSP) is scheduled to be executed next week, April 4.

For well over a year, I’ve served as Smith’s spiritual advisor.  Daily, we’ve talked about the specific struggles that he faces.  Of course, we all face specific struggles.  Such a path is part of what it means to be human.  Existential struggles might be what we all have most viscerally in common.  Too often, we dismiss the struggles of others as foreign and therefore unworthy of our time.  Yet, real change is only possible when we stop to see each other.  The message of Good Friday is to open our eyes to the execution…the struggle…of Jesus.  Such a message extends down through the ages to our present realities.

Conversations about historical injustices tend to illicit quick and complete self-absolutions.  We want the world to know that we would never just sit by and let such a thing happen.  We always believe that we are morally superior to the executioners of old.

Golgotha was well known as the place of execution.  When an execution was about to happen, everybody knew where to go.  Our present juxtaposition is no different.  Everybody in Oklahoma knows where executions happen, McAlester.

Of course, McAlester is also home to those who do more than just live near the execution site.  Like the soldiers situated at the foot of the cross, the folks at OSP actually participate in these executions.  I assume that most would say that they’re just doing their jobs.  Such a response betrays the fact that one doesn’t have to work a job that requires them to kill people.  Let me make it plain, those who participate in executions are choosing to do so.  The soldiers that executed Jesus were morally culpable for what they did.  The same is true for the employees of OSP.

Michael Smith is not Jesus Christ.  But he doesn’t have to be to be relevant on this day.  We are told not to kill each other.  We are told to love our neighbor.  We are told to stand with the outcast.  We are told to drop our stones.  The contemporary relevance of execution of Jesus manifests in McAlester.  The message is quite simple really.  Don’t be an executioner.

Jesus was murdered because good people did nothing.  If Michael Smith is murdered, it will be because McAlester did nothing.

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