We all grimaced, just the headline was enough, Four Black Teens Torture Disabled Man. Through squinted eyes we watched a few seconds of brutality before we turned away, our stomachs in knots. In our conversations and on social media we cried out for justice, asking for a punishment equal to the crime. And then we prayed for peace for the victim and his family.
And yet, at least for those of us who call ourselves Christians, but probably for anyone who calls themselves human, we were compelled to go further. As our anger softened we began to make room for pity, not just for the victim but for these four young souls. These teens who, in another world, would have been at home with their own families instead of living in a world where kidnapping and assaulting an innocent man is a reasonable or even exhilarating thing to do. We still wanted them to be punished but in our piety we prayed for them too, to know love, to seek forgiveness and to be put right.
But Christ does not call us to contempt nor does He ask us for pity.
Christ, our sacrificed lamb, asks from us the reward of His suffering. He implores us to bring Him our own broken and bleeding hearts. Hearts big enough for both victim and persecutor. Hearts with open eyes to see each human as our own flesh and blood.
When we look into the face of a stranger we see ourselves, and in this transcendent mirror we find that we share with them the condemnation for the wrong that they have committed and we are ashamed to realize that they share in ours too.
Each of us is responsible before all, for everyone and for everything.
– Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
If this seems like a stretch, let’s take a step back and think for a minute about The Butterfly Effect.
What if you had $20 in your pocket and instead of giving it to the lady begging on the street you spent it on a frappaccino and gluten-free scone? Meanwhile that lady is down to her last dime and decides her only option is to start prostituting herself to put food on the table. What if her daughter’s (one of the culprits in this assault that we are discussing) introduction to violence was from the men who came over to buy sex from her mother? What if by the time she was 18 a beating and some cigarette burns were nothing because she had been through far worse? And what if your $20 could have spared her that? What if the next day her mother would have found a real job?
Each of us sit in our positions of moral authority not because of our intrinsic personal virtue but by another set of happenstance situations that have brought us just as randomly to where we are today.
Evil isn’t something that someone else does, if we are sinners then sin is something that we do, it is part of us. The words we say or don’t say, the work we do or don’t do, even in our best intentions we can’t help but cause harm. We inherited a sin nature and we perpetuate it everyday as we continue to live out our imperfect lives.
This may feel like the ultimate of dismal injustices.
But it is also the very truth which allows us to connect with another person, which gives us courage to suffer with and leads us to cry out for justice not just for one act of violence but for every single hurt and failure that has wounded the hearts of all mankind.
“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
We see ourselves when we see Christ suffering on the cross and we see ourselves when we see the brutality of the soldiers nailing Him to it.
Our hope in Christ does not spare us or the world from the tangible consequences for our failures. But as we profess with St. Paul,
“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
we see that our story doesn’t stop in our sin. Instead we claim a boundless victory. We celebrate a restored creation and we rejoice in a grace that is free to us no matter how grotesque our actions. The vilest sin in the whole world no longer binds us because we have a new life and a renewed nature in a resurrected Christ.
For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.