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News of the execution

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In recent weeks, the nation has anxiously watched reports of court proceedings regarding the execution of Timothy J. McVeigh, convicted mass-murderer in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building. Many survivors of the blast, and family members of victims, were given permission to watch the execution on closed-circuit television. And, while that was the focus of argument a few weeks ago, the debate, and the heat, have spread recently. If the ranting on some talk shows is any barometer, there is a great deal of anger focused toward the FBI, lawyers, and judges, as well as Mr. McVeigh.

Issues of this gravity deserve the close scrutiny they're getting. But close and responsible scrutiny isn't the same as obsession. Is there a lurid fascination with the execution and the legal maneuvering swirling around it? If so, does that deserve our prayer, our quiet and earnest appeal to the Judge of all the earth? I don't believe this fascination and obsession has seized everyone, by any means. Most Americans just want this sad chapter over. They just want closure with as much justice and mercy as can be had under the circumstances.

If there's any flicker of light here, perhaps it's that this somber episode might stir some rethinking of what we watch and why. Could something from pre-television and pre-Internet days - something from the Bible - be relevant? It was during Jesus' night in the garden of Gethsemane that he admonished a mentally drowsy disciple. "What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation" (Matt. 26:40, 41).

As I thought about that admonition, I began to ask myself what it was that Jesus was asking this disciple - and by implication all of us for all time to come - to watch. On the eve of his crucifixion, what was he asking his disciples to watch? This is a different take on watching. For me at least, it has come to mean: "Keep watching your own thought. Make sure you're carrying out the tasks God gives you. Stay focused on living your prayers."

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