Readings for 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: WIS 1:13-15; 2: 23-24; PS 30: 2, 4-6, 11-13; 2COR 8: 7, 9, 11-13-15; 2 TM 1: 10; MK 5: 21-43.
Today’s readings are about death. They contain claims that are absolutely astounding, challenging, and almost too good to be true – especially in the light of last week’s massacre of nine black church goers during a Bible Study class at the historic Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina.
There the twenty-one year old perpetrator, Dylann Roof, slaughtered the people with whom he had been discussing the Bible just moments before. He had to kill them, he told a survivor, because “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
Immediately, the entire country responded with horror. Many vilified the shooter as they found out about his racist Facebook postings, his easy access to firearms, and his flaunting of the Confederate Battle Flag. They argued about whether he should be executed as a terrorist or as a hate crime killer.
South Carolina, Alabama and other states flying the Confederate Battle Flag talked about removing it from their State Houses. Some discussed honoring the victims by passing omnibus legislation to address South Carolina’s racist structures involving health care, voting rights, housing and education.
President Obama got more personal. He said racism is in our DNA – an inheritance from our past that is difficult to erase.
Surviving families went deeper still. They forgave Dylann Roof choking as they did so through their tears of mourning.
Others asked, “What have we become as a nation?”
All of these reactions are familiar. We witnessed similar phenomena after Sandy Hook and Columbine.
It’s what human beings do in the face of brutality, violence and massacre. We blame; we soul-search. And sometimes forgive. Sometimes we even recognize complicity in the crime and resolve to change.
Those last reactions – forgiveness, soul-searching, and conversion – are justified by today’s readings. As I say, they address the astounding Judeo-Christian belief about death. Few of us can truly accept them. Once again: they seem too good to be true.
The first reading from the Jewish Testament’s Book of Wisdom startles us immediately by proclaiming: “God did not make death.” Instead he fashioned all things to have being. Specifically, human beings were formed imperishable by God. Death is experienced only by those who believe in the devil.
What? God did not make death? We are imperishable? Belief in death comes from the devil? Hold on; there’s more.
Today’s Alleluia verse becomes more specific still. It tells us to cheer up because “Christ has destroyed death” entirely. It has no reality at all.
Then in today’s Gospel, Jesus illustrates that truth. He equates death with mere sleep. There is nothing to cry about he tells those mourning the “tragic,” “premature” death of a 12 year old girl. She is merely sleeping. And then he grabs her by the hand and shows he’s right.
Do we really believe such statements? Is that Jesus story a child’s tale? Do we really believe that God did not make death? Do we believe that Christ has destroyed it? Is death no more than sleep? Is death a mere illusion – moving from one room to another?
Those who are Christians routinely claim say yes. We even go further. Our belief says that “death” is not the end. Instead it is the greatest, happiest moment in life. For with it, life does not end. It goes on in ways so magnificent, so full of peace and wisdom and joy as to make it difficult to describe and impossible to comprehend.
That’s the faith we claim. Again, it seems too good to be true.
But if that’s what we believe, our faith has practical consequences regarding Dylann Roof and others like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Richard Speck, and even Adolf Hitler. The conclusions are these (as inspired by Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God):
- All those killers did no harm or damage to the ones whose deaths they caused. The souls of those they killed were released from earthly bondage, like butterflies emerging from a cocoon.
- Their deaths are thought to be “untimely” only by those who believe that anything in God’s universe can happen when it is not supposed to. Given who God is, nothing can possibly be untimely.
- The people left behind mourn the dead only because they do not know the joy into which those souls entered.
- The killers themselves remain loved by God and will go to heaven, whatever that means. (There is no other place for them to go. Dante’s inferno was his creation, not God’s. To repeat the metaphor: death itself is the “devil’s” creation.)
- Their actions were mistakes, those of unevolved human beings. The proper faith-inspired response to them is not punishment, but God’s response: forgiveness, healing, correction, re-education, and eventual reintegration back into the fullness of life.
- None of them acted alone. Germany produced Adolf Hitler; millions thought he was right. South Carolina and the United States created Dylan Roof; many sympathize with his racism. We all bear responsibility for his actions. In a sense, we are all Dylann Roof. Killing innocents is killing innocents whether it’s in Charleston, Baghdad, Ferguson, or Guantanamo.
- In God’s perfect universe, the function of Dylann Roof, Dzhokhar Tsamaev, Richard Speck, and even Adolf Hitler is to force us to face who we are and what we want to become. We claim we live in the land of the free, home of the brave, in a democracy where all are equal. Some even hold that we are a Christian nation. Few of us admit subscribing to racism. But then a Dylan Roof forces us to look in the mirror and reassess. Suddenly Confederate Battle Flags come down and politicians are discussing omnibus legislation.
From a faith perspective, Dylann Roof has become our teacher. His lesson is the reverse of what Jesus, the Buddha, Krishna and Pope Francis have taught. The latter all reveal to us the splendid human beings every one of us (even Dylann Roof) can become. The former shows us where we are headed if we refuse to change course.