When I first met Syl & Vicki Schieber, they shared the story of their daughter Shannon’s murder nearly 25 years ago in her grad school apartment in Philadelphia. Shannon and I would be the same age today, had her life not been cut short by this terrible crime. In fact, just this month, the amount of time since Shannon’s death surpassed the time she was alive.
The Schiebers have been sharing their story for decades now. For them, honoring Shannon has always been tied to seeking an end to the death penalty—they opposed it for their daughter’s killer, they advocated for its abolition in their home state of Maryland, and have continued to do so in states beyond.
The Schiebers have a remarkable faith; one born of unimaginable suffering and testing. And when asked where they find strength to oppose the death penalty, they point to today’s Gospel story in John—often called The Passage of the Woman Caught in Adultery.
The Schiebers told me, “On the death penalty, Christ’s teaching is clear. If we lived in Jesus’ time, we’d know this is the scene of an execution about to take place. Yet Jesus does not question the charges or evidence or even the guilt of the woman. Instead, Jesus stood up to confront the execution and said, ‘Let you without sin throw the first stone.’”
In reading this story in John, I have always recognized that Jesus’ response to the woman was radical for his time. But the enormity of this teaching inflamed my heart when hearing it retold by my friends who have lost so much.
There are many ways the Schiebers might have responded to the devastating murder of their child. Yet, in opposing the death penalty for her killer, they chose to respond in a restorative way. Much like Jesus’ approach in this story, they took courageous steps in the spirit of reconciliation to ensure that their pain would not result in more suffering. Instead of vengeance, they chose the more life-giving path.
In this Gospel story, Jesus did something unexpected and surprising. He found a way to bring forth life; to not inflict more death.
I am grateful for this reading today and the blessing of contemporary disciples—like the Schiebers—who have chosen to “harden not their hearts,” in order to continue modeling Jesus’ reconciling way.
- In this Lenten journey, where do you find in your life “scenes of death” that await a creative, life-giving response?
- How have you suffered or been tested in your faith?
- Where are you called to be a reconciler—whether in your family, Church, or community?
Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy serves as the executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, the national Catholic organization dedicated to ending the death penalty and promoting restorative justice. Krisanne is co-author of Advocating for Justice: An Evangelical Vision for Transforming Systems and Structures, published by Baker Academic. She holds a masters in theology degree from Boston College (formerly Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts).