1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
In the film The 25th Hour Edward Norton plays a low level drug dealer about to begin his lengthy prison sentence. Viewers accompany him on his last day. We never find out who ratted him out, though there is suspicion that his girl friend did. Yet, perhaps she is only made to look suspicious in order to increase the protagonist’s sense of loneliness and isolation. For all we know it could have been associates, rivals, family, who knows.
It is an excellent movie. Our family likes Edward Norton, and we like Spike Lee who directed the film, yet the fascinating thing about the movie is that you see the world through the eyes of a convicted drug dealer who considers his only sin that he became too greedy, that he did not quit wile he was on top.
That he does not see the misery he has brought into people’s lives is what is offensive to watch. Remember, he does not see his sin as having profited from the misery he has brought onto others but only that he got greedy. We watched this film with church folk and people got really angry at Norton’s character.
Maybe this is too much of a stretch. Maybe this is too much to demand. To put oneself into the shoes of what most of us may call a scum bag.
And yes, we could now talk about how we all are complicit in the injustices of the world, yet somehow that does not cut it. We may be ignorant of our sins, sometimes wilfully ignorant, but we have not intentionally sought to profit from other people’s misery. At the most we have managed to lie to ourselves about our true selves.
The film came to mind because of Jesus’ command to forgive. “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.””
It’s not easy to forgive. It could not have been easy for Jesus when on the cross he prayed, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And did they really not know what they were doing? Did they think that killing another human being in the name of their empire was OK because someone had told them so? Maybe. But they must have known they were taking the life of someone like them.
The 25th Hour is compelling because it highlights the challenge of empathy. It does so by making us walk in the shoes of someone whose life we would prefer not to share. And yet Jesus came to share that man’s life, and the life of the world, and he came bearing no arms but only peace. “Peace be with you,” he said.
We were moving this week. So my exposure to what was going on in the world was somewhat limited. It was only on Friday that I learned of the incident at McMath, of the threats uttered on social media. A sad story. When I learned of it I read up on it the best I could and I came upon an editorial in the Richmond News, the author of which has a daughter at McMath. She wrote, “McMath is a community. As a parent, it’s been my community for seven years now. Now’s the time to show what we’re made of.
It’s time to go out of our way to show all families — LGBTQ, Jewish and those struggling with kids who cross the line — we’re in this together.”1
It was remarkable because she did not deny the perpetrator’s humanity, which is an essential element of forgiveness. I can forgive the other because the other is human like me, and because he or she is human they are not beyond redemption. Denying the humanity of others is what leads to violence, which is why it is so important in this age of polarization that we do not deny the humanity of neighbour or enemy (which does not mean that people are unable to denouce it themselves).
This is part of what the movie did. The protagonist was not a nice guy, but he was human, and as such he bore resemblance to us, and all of us bear resemblance to the One who made us, created in God’s image, which means that we are not beyond redemption.
It ca be suggested that at Pentecost our celebration of the resurrection must find a new form. Yes, we will continue to sing songs of praise, we will continue to worship, but Pentecost is the culmination of Eastertide: Time to turn our attention from celebrating the resurrection of Jesus to doing the good work the resurrection makes possible.
That good work Jesus modelled for us when he came to the disciples who had abandoned and denied him, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
He could have said all kinds of things, but he gave them the peace they so badly needed. And then he commissioned them to be bearers of peace, to bring forgiveness (for that is not only what we was saying but practising and modelling for them).
William Bausch tells the story about an unknown woman in the Ravenbrück concentration camp. She wrote a little prayer and pinned it to the dead body of a little girl there. She prayed: “Oh, Lord remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the sufferings they have inflicted on us. Remember rather the fruits we have brought, thanks to this suffering: Our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity; the greatness of heart that has grown out of all of this. And when they come to judgment, let the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness.”2
Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
2 William Bausch, Telling Stories Compelling, p.28