Trinity XIII Proper 18 Year A 6th September 2020
You may remember back in 2011 the television images of the deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in court. Speaking from a stretcher in a caged dock, it was claimed that he was too ill to stand trial. A trial established by his own people; in the country that he ruled as a dictator for decades. At 83 it might be claimed that he was too old to stand trial but the fact of the matter is that he was still in power aged 83 and that if he was still able to rule then he was still able to be held to account for his actions. The question that we need to ponder is ‘How unwell or how old should one be before one does not have to account for one’s behaviour?’
Personally, I do not believe there is any age at which we cannot be brought to account for what we have done or not done. We all need to be able to ‘own’ our actions, apologise where necessary and to make recompense for them. It is in the ‘punishment’ meted out that we can show mercy but not in the fact of being tried for one’s misdeeds.
In the punishment handed down we do not need to sink to the level of the accused. We can insure that they pay their debt to society or to those they have harmed but we must never sink to the levels of depravity that the offender may have done.
In past years there have been many attempts to restore the death penalty. One such was the political online blogger ‘Guido Fawkes’ He believed that the restitution of the death penalty would get ordinary people re-engaged with politics. Personally, I think he was pandering to our base human nature. For many of us; ‘an eye for an eye’ or a ‘life for a life’ might seem just – but is it? In taking a life, even that of a murderer, do we not as a society sink to their level. Are we not better than that? Should we not seek to be merciful and above ‘tit for tat’ retribution. If as St.Paul reminds us:
“Love does no wrong to a neighbour.” Romans 13:10a
are we not wronging a neighbour when we seek to severely punish them, even if they have wronged one of us? Just because a murderer takes a life it does not mean that we as a society have to do so as well. In NOT seeking to restore the death penalty we can be seen as practicing ‘The Golden Rule’ – to love one’s neighbour as oneself. We are showing that our basic nature is better than what our instincts might be. We do not have to operate at a base level, we can rise above it.
Having worked in Lockerbie in the 1990’s I was always moved by Dr.Jim Squires, the father of Flora who died in the PanAm explosion. He forgave the bomber for what he did and he fought for true justice for those who died. He sought the truth without retribution for over 30 years. This to me is admirable. If he had sought ‘blood for blood’ he would have never found any peace in his life and nor could he have allowed Flora to ‘rest in peace’ either. In rising above a base level was able to celebrate his daughter’s life and to seek the truth.
For me, this is the essence of today’s readings. They challenge us to seek the ways of God in Christ and I say in Christ because we are people of the New Testament nor the Old. The Old Testament to my mind contains too much blood, gore and retribution and shows why we needed the advent of Christ to save us from ourselves. It is Christ who shows us a different way forward. In Jesus the old ways are left behind and the new ways of living through love are put before us.
Living life through love is a hard path to follow because at times it will and does appear to be contradictory to what might seem to be the natural way forward. But then Jesus was always happy to contradict the norms of his day and to act out of love and compassion, regardless of the consequences to himself. To love and then love a bit more is what he calls us to do. All we have to try and do is to live up to his example. It is an example that we might struggle to ape but it is one that we must at least try to copy, in the hope that we might live up to it.
“..put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires..”