Monday, May 02, 2011

Has Justice Been Done?

I was in suburban Washington, DC on September 11, 2001, which was, indeed, a day of terror. Like many, many others, I can remember nearly every moment of that day. I spent most of it trying to calm down people whose loved ones had gone into Washington to work that morning and now no one knew where they were. All communication had been cut off save for the television, and they were letting us know every rumor that flew around the region about more bombs and planes, none of which proved to be true.

A few parishioners and others I knew in our part of the county became fixated on vengeance. Some of us engaged in conversation and got somewhere, even if it was respectfully to disagree. The rumor went around Glenn Dale, however, that I was not a "patriot," because I did not support seeking revenge.

It has not mattered to me, frankly, for a long time, whether or not I was a "patriot." I'll confess to being entirely indifferent to the word or concept. I am a disciple of Jesus and I believe my absolute loyalty belongs to him and him alone. This is the land of my birth and I am thankful for that and I strive to be a good citizen. But it is clear to me that one of my responsibilities as a citizen is to be critical when criticism is needed.

I heard the President, of whom I am a great supporter, say, "Justice has been done." My heart broke. He had just said, "We will be true to the values that make us who we are."

God's way of justice and our ways of justice are not the same. I do not subscribe to the murder of any human being as a value. It says nothing to me about the "greatness" of America that after ten years we found this guy and summarily executed him.

These feelings are not about me. They are about the one I choose to follow, Jesus, and the One whose way he taught. Today I cannot feel triumphant. Today I can only reflect on words like these:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also… I say to you, love your enemies” — Matthew 5:38-39, 44

“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble” — Proverbs 24:17

“As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live” — Ezekiel 33:11

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” — Matthew 6:14-15

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’.” — Romans 12:19, alluding to Deuteronomy 32:35, 41 — “Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip”, “I will take vengeance on my adversaries, and will repay those who hate me.”

I have only talked with one person today (it is my day off) and he suggested that perhaps Jesus didn't mean someone so purely evil when he said, "Love your enemies." On this point I'll be a literalist. He said what he said with no qualification and he acted it out as he allowed himself to be subjected to perhaps the single greatest instrument of terror of his day, the cross.

I'm as human as the next person. Frankly, it would be easier if I could divide the world into piles of good people and bad people, and then, perhaps, a pile of truly evil people who should be sown no mercy. But I am a Christian and I do not have that luxury. "Love your enemies," the man said, and I'm sworn to follow the man.

2 comments:

Bob in Rochester said...

I agree with you Michael. The action reported so voluminously since last night does not represent justice in any way. Even in so-called just war theory, I believe this is true. At most, the president's statement is a natural follow-up to the "hunt down and kill" statements of former chief executives of the U.S. Our language and fundamental concepts, philosophical and otherwise, relating to state actions relating to "war" every since the Korean conflict, require drastic cleansing and a great deal of public discussion.

Cheryl said...

The Amish said, "We must forgive." Why can't the US government do the same? What would it be like if all the money we used for wars was instead used for micro-loans, health, and education for developing countries, not to mention solar panels, organic farming, and sustainable transit systems, etc?