March 30, 2018
Ash Wednesday, which happened to be Valentine’s Day this year, a day in which we celebrate love, there was yet another mass shooting at a High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen people were killed and seventeen more were wounded, making it one of the world’s deadliest school massacres. Among those who died that day, were 3 staff members who were attempting to protect the lives of the students entrusted to them. Since I am teaching 9th grade theology this semester, I personalized the news of this most recent tragedy. And so did my students. When I walked into the classroom the morning after, they were talking about it.
As they shared their reactions and feelings, I commented on the extreme sacrifice of those who lost their lives so that others might live. I reminded them of what Jesus said: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13) To this, one of the kids immediately replied: “I couldn’t do it! I wouldn’t do that. It would cause my family way to much suffering.” I noticed that the rest of the kids just sat silently. Clearly they were weighing in their minds, whether or not they had it within them to show that kind of unconditional love. It’s a sobering thought.
I understood the kid that was honest enough to say: “That’s not for me!” I responded by saying that in my opinion, it is contrary to every human instinct to submit voluntarily to suffering and death. We immediately recoil from danger. It’s an involuntary reaction, much like breathing, or batting our eyes when something unexpectedly comes flying at us. Recall Jesus’s Agony in the Garden? His human nature resisted what was being asked of Him. The though of suffering and dying on The Cross literally drove Him to the ground in bitter anguish. But He did it. In spite of His completely human nature, He submitted.
And so did those three heroes during the horrific 6 minutes of senseless violence in a Florida school. They laid down their lives so that others might live. And since then, it’s happened again. A police officer in France, already a war hero, traded places with a woman who was among other hostages being held by a terrorist in an ordinary neighborhood supermarket. He suffered a fatal gunshot wound within moments of entering that store. He had a wife and family and loved ones and friends who would suffer from his loss. He had time to think about them and their feelings. But he still did it.
We remember and celebrate these heroes, and other individuals like them, for their courage and bravery. That is certainly a fitting thing to do. But if we leave it at that, we are not doing them justice. These examples of rising about human nature are mystical experiences. These instances of overpowering the overwhelming instinct to save ourselves….to live…are examples of unconditional love. Regardless of the spirituality or the religious beliefs of these heroes, they are continuing the sacrifice of the Lord.
God was present in the darkness that the young shooter brought into that school in Florida. God enabled the three to move beyond human instinct and to arm themselves with Divine love. God was behind that police officer, guiding him into that super market in France…assuring him that the danger of dying was of no consequence because as he the hostage he exchanged his life for stepped through the door to continue her life…he was stepping into eternal life in the joy of the Kingdom.
That is the message of Good Friday. The inevitability of the Cross sent Jesus’s human nature into a profound agony. But the love within Him, His Divine nature…because that is what love is…enabled Him to see that Calvary was not a catastrophic ending to His mission and ministry, but the high point of His earthly life. Jesus’s death on the Cross was The Father’s most perfect way of telling us: YOU ARE LOVED!
It’s quite doubtful that any of us here will ever have the opportunity to rise out of our humanity, ignoring our human instinct to self protect; at least not in the dramatic way that the three in the Florida school or the man in the supermarket in France did. But, every time we put aside our own self interests and respond to the needs of someone else, we are making our own, small contribution to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Every time we lay down our own lives, in order to make the life of someone else a little easier, we our joining our voices with God’s and saying: YOU ARE LOVED.
As Christians, that is exactly what we are called to do on Good Friday…celebrate love by showing the love of God to everyone we meet.