I was sitting on the couch eating a late lunch with my wife when we turned on the TV and saw the breaking news about the Boston Marathon bombings.
Like everyone else in the country I was shocked.
Like everyone else I couldn’t understand why anyone would ever do something like that and I wanted justice and I wanted it to be quick and severe.
Justice did finally catch up with the two men accused of carrying out these horrendous acts and, as we all know, one of them is now dead.
The question of where to bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev has, understandably, created quite the controversy in Massachusetts, and I suspect across the country. Understandably, few people in Massachusetts want Tsarnaev buried anywhere near the people he murdered.
Which is what makes the offer of Paul Keane so remarkable.
And so incredibly convicting.
In the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel Jesus is delivering his famous Sermon on the Mount. He’s just finished talking about the problems with retributive justice or as he called it – eye for an eye. Speaking to a crowd whose homeland was ruled by foreign invaders, whose livelihood was constantly being stripped from them in order to support the opulent lifestyle of a emperor who cared nothing about them, and who never knew when they or their family might be arrested, raped, or murdered for the slightest offense by a Roman soldiers who often acted more like terrorists than peace keepers, Jesus said the last thing I’m sure they or we would want to hear.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
This, Jesus would go on to say, is what real perfection is all about.
In many ways it seems this path to perfection is a much more difficult path to tread than simply not doing certain things. After all, I don’t know about you, but my first, second, and third reactions to the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing and every other event like that was not – “I know you destroyed lives out of hate, but I choose to love you anyway.”
I kind of doubt that was Paul Keane’s first reaction either. But unlike me, Paul decided to actually take Jesus at his word and live out this most difficult of callings in one of the most difficult of situations.
For an enemy.
In his own words,
I am willing to donate a burial plot next to my mother in Mt. Carmel Burying Ground to the Tsarnaev family if they cannot obtain a plot. The only condition is that I do it in memory of my mother who taught Sunday School at the Mt. Carmel Congregational Church for twenty years and taught me to”love thine enemy.”
I have no doubt that Paul’s decision will anger a lot of people – including many Christians.
But whether we like it or not, whether it makes us uncomfortable or flat out angry, his actions are the very incarnation of Jesus’ words.
Of Jesus’s love.
Which is why today I am proud to be a Yale Divinity School student, proud to share a connection with someone who has reminded me that loving your enemies means much more than tolerating a coworker who gets on your nerves or not flipping someone the bird who cut you off in traffic.
I just hope Paul Keane’s story does not fade too quickly into obscurity.
I hope it lingers as a tangible reminder of what Christ-like love really looks like.
Grace and peace,