Some months ago, I was brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed around 1:00 AM when I heard on the radio news station something that disturbed me enough to keep me awake the rest of the night. (Last time I listen to the radio before bed!) It was a disturbing report talking about how the police had discovered, yet another body out on Long Island, making six murder victims who had been identified in just a few days all in this neighborhood. Investigators realized at this point that they were dealing with a Serial Killer. They started to put together a profile of the victims - all were women, similar in age, and appearance. It also turned out that all of the victims were prostitutes. It was a sad and disturbing story right there. But what came next on this broadcast has troubled me ever since I heard it and is probably the reason that despite the fact that we hear horrible things on the news on a daily basis, this story really troubled me.
The reporter interviewed a woman who lived in the neighborhood and asked her how she felt about the serial killer and these attacks. She said, without even a second’s pause, that she had been worried about it when she first heard about the murders, but once she learned that all of the women who were killed were prostitutes, she was relieved. As soon as she heard that, she said, she and her family and friends could relax and go back to life as usual. It was startling to hear – this horrific thing was occurring right in her own neighborhood, terrorizing her community but suddenly it didn’t matter at all to her - all because she felt that since she and those closest to her didn’t fit the victim profile, they were “safe.”
Maybe she’s watched too much CSI or Criminal Minds and thinks the killer wouldn’t go after her. I doubt I’d ever feel safe if I knew that there was a homicidal maniac running around my town or neighborhood. As I spit the toothpaste out and yelled at the radio saying “Hey Genius – killing people isn’t exactly a logical thing to do, perhaps one day this killer might decide to kill someone other than prostitutes!”
Besides that initial rant, what was stunning to me was that sense of disengagement from the horrific thing that was occurring right in her neighborhood. She was genuinely relieved as she spoke to the reporter. As horrific as murder is, this lady revealed something that is equally destructive to humanity – indifference. What concern is this to me? It’s not my problem... who cares?
A friend of mine who recently traveled to the Holy Land and walked the “Way of the Cross” to visit the actual places of Jesus’ trial, passion, and route to Calvary, was stricken by a similar experience. He said it was amazing because this was the first time, and perhaps the only time he’d travel to the Holy Land to make this pilgrimage. As he walked and made the different stops on the Way of the Cross - he said it bothered him that here he was trying to pray and there was merchandise being sold, people conducting their daily business and seemingly unmoved that this was a sacred thing for him and his fellow pilgrims. The tour guide realizing how unsettled the group was by all of this pointed out to them that this was what occurred that first Good Friday. We have an image in our head that the entire world stopped what it was doing and paid attention to events that we would eventually recognize as “sacred” and the story of our salvation.
Yet for many, it was an ordinary Friday. Prisoners would be escorted with cross beams on them and soldiers pushing them around on a regular basis. People had to get provisions, it was almost the Sabbath, they needed to get things done. For many, they would be indifferent to all that Jesus was enduring.
We can even read this in the Passion Narrative from the Gospel of John that is proclaimed on Good Friday. Pilate doesn’t want to be bothered “Take him yourselves” - it’s almost like Pilate is saying, “Why are you bothering me with this problem? He’s a Jew, this is a Jewish problem, I don’t see anything wrong with the guy... Why are you bringing this to me? I don’t care, you want to crucify an innocent man, fine, I wash my hands of it - go ahead.”
Something tells me that if the woman who the reporter interviewed knew one of the victims who had been found murdered by the serial killer, that individual wouldn’t have felt so relieved or disinterested. Knowing and caring about the person would have radically made a difference. The same is true for Catholic Christians entering into these holiest days of the year. Recounting, remembering, reliving the Passion of Jesus Christ as his disciples today calls us out of the indifference we can sometimes fall into in our faith lives. To realize that Jesus’ death meant something, means something, radically important for you and for me. That Jesus came to express to us in the most intimate, profoundly personal way God’s deep love for each of us. That our sinfulness crucifies that love. Yet, the power of that Love can not be destroyed by the gruesome horrific death of Jesus we will recount in these holiest of days, nor by the indifference of those who let it happen, ignored the proceedings at the time or those who seem completely oblivious to what it is we’re celebrating this very day.
We come to the Cross and realize that Jesus’ death is able to conquer all of that, for each of us. He beckons us to come, to embrace that Cross ourselves, knowing when we do, it makes all the difference.
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