Let’s start with John 20:19-23, it’s the passage that precedes Thomas the Doubter’s encounter with our Risen Lord. In my beat up RSV version it reads like this: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to the them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’.”
Now let’s jump to Mr. Bin Laden. No doubt this was an interiorly scarred man. Again last night I listened to the tape recording where he celebrates the deaths his plan to attack the Twin Towers caused. Ten years later I still find it haunting. Now the newsmen and women are reporting that this man was shot in the head two days ago, April 30, 2011. That puts his death exactly sixty six years to the day after Mr. Hitler took his own life in a Berlin bunker. No doubt similar moral tales will be told in the coming days.
But what should our response to all this be?
As far as I can say (and in truth who am I to prescribe a response?), it seems to me that we are in an odd middle ground, pulled between two poles. On one side I feel myself celebrating death, an odd feeling to be sure. But isn’t it understandable, I ask myself? Isn’t it?! I’d lived the summer of 2001 on 16th street in Manhattan considering entering the Society of Jesus. When I saw the news that September morning I spent hours attempting to call friends I had lived with less than a month before. Family and friends were sent to Iraq. The terribly regular tale of suffering and meaning-making ensued in my life as it did in so many others. Much because of this man. I respond with anger; with pain I’d thought put away over the past ten years. I hurt because of this man, and I’m angry at him still. And I certainly hope the world will be a safer place with Mr. Bin Laden no longer a part of it. But there is another pole of this story, and it’s why I wanted to start with (to center myself in) Jesus’ Easter message to us – to His disciples fearfully huddled in the upper room.
I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to characterize our beloved (I mean that word) U.S.A. as huddling behind locked doors after the events of September the 11th. I’m just not as sure that we can safely say that we received our Lord’s twice repeated counsel: “Peace be with you.” It’s the injunction to receive peace, the positive fullness of shalom He so desired as He wept over Jerusalem, that we are given. That’s the other pole.
I know it’s not so simple some times, perhaps in these very minutes, to live in this other pole. But calling ourselves Christians means being fully united with one another and with our Father’s will for us and our world. It’s our God, in his glorified body, who breathed the Holy Spirit upon our angry, frightened, hurt ancestors who had locked themselves in that upper room. And that Holy Spirit, in John’s words, will “teach [us] all things, and bring to our minds all that [Jesus] has said to [us]. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (14:26-27).
I hope I’m not being trite. To be straight with everyone, I cannot find it in myself to fully receive that message of peace from my Lord this morning. But to be straight with everyone, I really think it’s the Word of Life. And I’m really trying not to retain anybody’s sins. Even this man’s.
Prayers all. For the souls of Mr. Bin Laden and all those who have been killed and wounded in his wake. For real.
PS. Here are links to two strong articles on this same subject, one by Fr. Jim Martin, S.J. in America, and one by a blogger named Joe Carter at First Things. Prayers again.
PPS. Here’s the Vatican’s response to Mr. Bin Laden’s death. I am consoled by it: “Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions for this purpose. In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.”