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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Forgiving the Image of the Crucified

Christ, in every sense,  makes himself human, including by  the ignominy of his death.  Tortured on the rough wooden cross, because people with power felt threatened by him, he gave his life as an innocent victim for his friends.  He gave his life for us while we were still sinners.  Then he turned to his Father and said, "Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do."

Was he crucified because his persecutors could not recognize his divinity?  Or  was it because they could not recognize his humanity?

Isn't it always the case that those who torture have failed to recognize shared humanity with their victims?   Our first duty to others is to recognize the humanity we share with them.  We are told that what we do for the poor, prisoners, the sick, we do for Our Lord, and when we failed to help those in need, we have failed him

In the Lord's Prayer we ask for our forgiveness on the basis that we have forgiven others. If we do not extend that forgiveness to others, we have failed to extend it to Our Lord on the cross, and we will be held to account for it.

There are many  people in the world who seem intrinsically evil, have committed crimes and moral outrages against humanity.   It becomes difficult to forgive them  and it a great challenge for us to see their humanity.  Terrorists for example have often inflicted horrible pain and suffering on their victims and  in turn are often punished by torture.

 But did not Christ forgive us?  He forgave us after what our sins did to him on the cross.  And he presented to us the image of a tortured one.  If we fail to recognize the humanity of a prisoner, regardless of their crimes, and torture them, we have tortured Christ.

We are required  to see the dignity of each human being and there are no exceptions.  This is foundational to Christian social teaching.  We can punish prisoners to protect ourselves and others and to attempt to rehabilitate them, but we cannot deprive them of their dignity, which torture and inhuman punishments do.

A friend of mine, a Muslim, says that in his opinion torturing someone was worse than killing them, because it was as if you had killed them, and at the same time you have taken their dignity.

It's time for religious people to work to end torture.  I find it shocking to learn that religious people are more likely to support the torture of accused terrorists than non religious people.  It is our duty to recognize Christ in even the worst criminal.  The National Religious Campaign Against Torture is asking us to support Torture Awareness Month this coming June.

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do".

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