This weekend is the fifteenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the attempted attack on Washington was thwarted by civilian passengers and ended in a Pennsylvania field. September 11th became one of those days that most of us will remember exactly where we were and what we were doing. It has also shaped the fifteen years since.
The two questions that keep coming to me are: how do followers of Jesus respond to violence and what was it that we lost that day? After a series of exchanges with the religious establishment, Jesus noted that the Pharisees were grumbling about the way he ignored the dining etiquette of the time – namely that he tended to share meals with “tax collectors and sinners.”
He asked them two questions about loss. Who among you having lost a sheep wouldn’t leave your other 99 and search for the lost? Who among you who, like a poor woman who lost one of ten coins would not light the lamp and sweep the house until it was found?
I have a weird theory about the sheep. I think the illustration flopped. I think Jesus realized that his audience was very practical and conventional thinkers who would conclude that losing one percent of the flock was an acceptable loss. So he went to plan B. A poor woman with only ten coins. Now the loss was greater and since coins don’t move around on their own and have no predators, there would be no reason to stop everything and search for the coin.
The point that might be missed however, is that neither the lost sheep nor the lost coin did anything, they just got found. All of the verbs apply to the shepherd and the woman. They search and the sheep and the coin are found, and then there is joy.
St. Paul confesses are dark past. He has actively persecuted the followers of Jesus, he has been a proponent of violence against those who think differently. All of that has changed, not because he reached the conclusion that he had to change his ways. Like the coin and the sheep, he did nothing other than receive the mercy of God.
Conventional wisdom just does not apply here – something different happened. The woman searched for the coin, the shepherd left 99 sheep to find the lost one, and a religious zealot with the capacity for violence changed completely. In this post 9/11 world, how shall we followers of Jesus respond to violence?
This seems like a good place for the prayer attributed to St. Francis.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.