Witness The Hanging
Last week Aingeal Rose asked a question, “Do you not think God wants this?” and put it on YouTube (https://youtu.be/l_mSUxLsNr4) and on our podcast http://podcast.aingealroseandahonu.com. It seems to have unearthed a deep seated resentment in people. They resent the possibility that they might be Gods. This sparked some interesting discussions and took us in a completely different direction. So, in this episode I’d like to offer my story called, “Witness The Hanging”. Have a listen to this, or read the full transcript below, and let me know what you think.
The hanging rope was tightened around Ethan’s neck. The man tightening the noose leaned menacingly towards Ethan’s ear from behind.
“Do you not think that God wants this?” he whispered.
Ethan’s mind raced back through time to all the prayers he had said in his lifetime to a loving God, and then to all the teachings his mother and father had taught him, all the Sunday School lessons on forgiveness and love, but none of it made sense. The confusion only terrified him more.
Was he going to a revengeful God? Was his punishment to not only suffer the pain of being hanged by the neck, but also to suffer in hell fire for the rest of eternity? And for what? He had not committed any crime, he had simply saved a white girl from drowning. The white folks had all appreciated that she was alive, but it was the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation that they felt violated their strict sense of southern biblical ethics. If he had left her to drown, then he would be left to live at home peacefully with his wife and twin babies.
But the crowds were incensed. The more they talked about it, the more of a frenzy they whipped up. They were hungry to see suffering. It was like they were feeding on stress and anxiety and loss.
From the gallows, Ethan looked out over the crowd. All the men and women he had so lovingly served were there. The farmers, the shopkeepers, the delivery men, the doctor and his wife, the postmaster, the garbage collector — they were all there to witness the hanging of Ethan Johnson.
Good people are always so sure they’re right, he thought. They were all love and light in the church on Sunday, and now they are so filled with judgment and fear and hatred. Maybe if I could say something to them? Maybe if they would let me say a few words before I die? Ethan closed his eyes to think what he might say, if he was even allowed to utter a word.
Suddenly, the executioner interrupted his thoughts. He was a 55 year-old government employee, paid to carry out the most dreadful of deeds, and today, Ethan Johnson would be his 55th legal murder. He stepped forward in front of the gallows. He raised his hands to quieten the crowd, then he began.
“Today, on our Louisiana gallows in the town square, I am charged with hanging Ethan Johnson by the neck until he is dead for crimes he was supposed to have committed. In all my time as a state executioner, I felt no regret for hanging murderers and rapists, but today, I must confess my weakness before you and before God. Not only am I am tired of killing, I am tired of my complicity in executions, violence, vengeance and hate, be they warranted or unwarranted.
“I offer this prayer for all of us executioners, and to all of you, that we might once and for all end this cycle of violence and believe in the Lord Jesus — executed and now risen — who calls us to love our enemies as ourselves. But is this man our enemy? Did he not just save the life of one of our own children? Are we so blinded by our own insanity that we cannot see the goodness in this man, and the blessing he brought to the family whose daughter he just saved?
Ethan’s eyes opened slowly. He could see the executioner in front of him, arms raised like a president, or a preacher, reaching into the very hearts of his congregation, stirring them to aspire to goodness.
“I say enough. I say this man is a hero not a villain. I say he walks free from the gallows today as an example to us all. Each Sunday you say you are a people of peace, yet you entertain violence in your hearts, wanting revenge and seeking it at every turn. You turn deaf ears to the poor and blind eyes to righteousness. O Lamb of God, have mercy on us. Wrench us from all desires that breed violence. Fill us with holiness, that we may not judge or be judged ourselves.”
Ethan could see the fear in his own people. He could see how difficult it was for them to come back from a place of anger and revenge to one of forgiveness. He watched them cower and shrink from the words of truth that were spoken before them. He could hear their whisperings of uncertainty and doubt. Just then, a little girl ran up the steps of the gallows. She cried as she hugged the hangman, and said, “I live because of him, now he lives because of you. Let’s all live happily because of each other.”
The executioner turned to Ethan and walked slowly behind him. He loosened the noose, raising the hemp rope above his head and let it swing loose in the gentle breeze of the Louisiana morning. Then he knelt down in front of Ethan. He took his hand and said, “Forgive me, my brother. I will not be taking your life today, nor will anyone else, so help me God.”