Last meals and the Last Supper

Paul Vander Klay

October 11, 2011

Are they trying to gain support for the death penalty by treating their prisoners like animals instead of human beings in their final hours?

Sure the prisoners committed behaviours they should have to account for somehow and I am not wanting to start a for or against argument. I just think that perhaps the validation of the death row prisoner's humanity by giving them a last meal request is a simple human dignity beyond Christian doctrine. It doesn't detract from anyone else, except politically where it reminds the audience that it is a human being about to be executed in a state that has been highly criticized for this policy. 

Is this last meal issue not just another political ploy in an election time? They still offer the prisoners a final clergy confession I hope.

October 11, 2011

Thank you, Paul. Yes, it's not about the recipient, but the giver. And the Giver whom we seek to emulate, however failingly. Every single time we overcome our own selfish tendencies to conserve and hoard and protect, and we give of our wealth or time or our talents, even in small self-sacrificial bits, we enlarge our own spirit and make more room for the Spirit. Your gospel insight here helps me see hospitality in a fresh way.

October 11, 2011

The larger issue is executing people in the first place. My immediate reaction to Price's comment that "it is his Christian faith that motivates him to do this for the prisoners" was dismissive- I see the "last meal" tradition as an attempt to relieve our collective guilt for taking a life, and my impression was that Price is playing into that system rather than challenging it. Then again, no small act of kindness is ever wasted, and after a bit of thought I appreciate Price's offer to continue providing those last meals. The substituting of fish for lobster, however, strikes me as betrayal.

Colleen Hogue
October 11, 2011

I like your interpretation of this topic. As humans, our first instinct is to seek punishment for people who have done us wrong. Jesus had a different way of handling things, though, and we are supposed to mirror that and honor Him in all that we do. It can be difficult to disagree with the state of Texas in this case, but you do make a strong point that the "Christian way" is much more giving and forgiving. Thanks for the insight!

Steven Koster
October 11, 2011

My gut sense of the Last Meal tradition is to acknowledge in some way the dignity of an Image Bearer, even one so broken as to be capitally condemned. By the meal, the state in some way shows even on death row life is not valueless. In that sense, the meal does speak to the character of the condemned as a fellow person. On the threshold of death, it is a gesture of mercy and worth. For that reason, Texas' decision only cheapens the respect for the life they take, and so undermine their own moral standing to bear the sword.

October 11, 2011

The state does not “owe” grace. No where in the Old Testament is a person guilty of a capital crime afforded a favorite last meal. Nor in the New Testament does Paul lay upon the state, who wields the sword to judge sin, the responsibility of Grace. In fact I am constantly surprised how ruthless and merciless were the executions and killings in the Old Testament that God (Jesus participating in the Trinity) ordered. And of course, without DNA testing and our system of jurisprudence, the standards of proof were pretty low for criminals in Biblical times. One consideration to always keep in mind though is that life does not stop at physical death, and God is just and merciful. If this life were all there is, death would be an inconceivable tragedy. That being said, when it was in Jesus power, and at his discretion, He extended unearned grace in a few notable instances. Although He did not save the thief on the cross from death, his confession of repentance provoked Jesus to promise him a place in the Kingdom. The woman caught in adultery was spared a sentence of death due to a lack of accusers and a heart change. I’m curious what would have happened had the accusers not melted away. What this says to me is that the state does not “owe” grace, and if anything, owes prompt justice to the victim of heinous murder. However, as Christians, when it is in our power, Jesus modeled compassion to the guilty. I believe there is a great amount of compassion built into our capital punishment traditions. Death is humane and painless, usually after many appeals. The murderer has access to clergy and family, every opportunity is given to prepare a convict for eternal life. I think it is sad not to allow the convict one last favorite meal if the godly chef is so inclined. God bless Brian Price.

October 12, 2011

The Texas policy would seem to be at philosophical odds with itself. The point of the last meal at the end is to recognize that the condemned is in fact human; the meal as a send-off is, I think, a matter of the Golden Rule. It is this extension of grace, of recognition of the condemned that in turn provides the moral weight for the execution. Judicial execution arises from the pursuit of justice and the sense of boundaries to the human community.

By eliminating the meal, the Texas policy steps away from the humanity of the condemned, but if we do not see the condemned as really human, preferring some other narrative of their essential otherness, their outsiderliness and alienation that has put them outside society -- then how is that act of the State finally just? A just punishment is the punishment of a person; even in its severity it testifies to the image bearing quality of criminal.

I find that there is something else happening as well. By eliminating the meal, the Texas policy transforms the act of justice to something closer to the act of Power: because We Can, as it were. When online discussions in the local paper turn to the criminal, I often hear this sort of depersonalization in comments, that the judged deserve it, that we owe them precious little. This coarsening of the heart towards the prisoner bodes ill to other values, as well. Hardness of heart is a dreadful thing.

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