Peace be with you!
The easy thing to do would be to send the surviving bomber of the Boston Marathon to Guantanamo Bay without a trial. Most Americans agree the bombing was an act of terrorism – an attack on Americans’ way of life. Vice President Joe Biden said:
“They do it to instill fear, to have us — in the name of our safety and security — jettison what we value most, and the world most values about us: our open society, our system of justice that guarantees freedom, the access of all Americans to opportunity, the free flow of information and people across this country, our transparency, that’s their target.” (CNN Staff, 2013).
The Tsarnaev brothers made Americans feel unsafe in their own neighborhoods as police, FBI, and more searched their streets and homes for the suspects.
This story in our reading today is found three times in the Book of Acts, but this is the only time Peter tells it himself. Circumcised believers question Peter as to why he eats with uncircumcised men (Acts 11:2-3). By asking this question, the circumcised believers are making a division between the circumcised and the uncircumcised (which was normal before the coming of Jesus). Through the following story, Peter rebukes any “us versus them” division.
Through a dream, Peter gets a message from the Lord to kill and eat unclean meat (Acts 11:7). In his dream, Peter argues with the Lord, because he thinks the Lord is testing his loyalty. Ever since the Lord has given Moses the laws in the wilderness, the Jews have not eaten unclean meat. Peter is convinced the Lord is testing him and refuses to kill and eat the unclean animals.
However, the Lord is not testing Peter; rather, he is showing him something new. The Lord says, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (Acts 11:9b NRSV). Through Jesus’ crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension, God the Father has made all things clean. Just like us, the unclean animals are made clean. There is no longer a division between clean and unclean, because through Jesus Christ every living thing is made clean.
The easy thing to do is to call the Tsarnaev brothers terrorists and stop there, failing to see how we and they are united by our common sinful natures. We feel the need to separate ourselves from those who harm us, especially those who harm a mass amount of people. We would never harm others, right? Most of us yell, “Yes!” Yet we say things out of anger to hurt the other person’s feelings or shut others out of our lives when we have had enough. We justify our actions by saying we are standing up for our beliefs, ways of life, or [whatever “it” is]. I am sure the surviving Tsarnaev brother would say he and his older brother were standing up for their beliefs or [whatever “it” is].
The Lord calls us to forgive the Tsarnaev brothers. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44b). This is when it is difficult to be a Christian. It is easy to forgive a friend or family member, because we know them personally and have a history with them. Even our public enemies in our neighborhoods are easier to forgive than the Tsarnaev brothers, because we have or can have a conversation with these individuals. We can come to some kind of agreement and we have some kind of working relationship with them – as dysfunctional as it may be. Most of us never heard of the Tsarnaev brothers before the Boston Marathon tragedy. The only history we have with the Tsarnaev brothers is when they set off the two bombs – killing three people, causing fourteen people to be amputees, and injuring over one hundred more people. We know them also for their murder of a MIT police officer. How do we possibly forgive the Tsarnaev brothers?
The Lord tells Peter to follow the three men from Caesarea, the capital of Judea, and to not to make a division between him and them (Acts 11:11-12). The three men take Peter to a man’s house where the man explains how an angel told him to send for Peter so that his whole household would be forgiven (Acts 11:13-14). As Peter speaks to the men, the Holy Spirit falls upon them, which reminds Peter how Jesus said John baptized with water but he would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:15-16).
By telling us this story, Peter is rebuking any “us versus them” division. The Lord sends Peter to Caesarea, a Gentile city, to speak the message of forgiveness to a Gentile household. The Gentiles threatened the Jewish way of life, because they did not follow Jewish laws. However, God the Father no longer defines his people by one special group of people who follow the Old Testament commandments. Anyone who accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord is given the right of passage into the Kingdom of God. We are all forgiven through Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Now we are called to pass on the forgiveness to others.
The easy thing to do would be to hate the Tsarnaev brothers. The easy thing would be to want the surviving brother to sit in Guantanamo Bay for the rest of his life or to sentence him to death. Most of us feel justified in these thoughts – they killed four people, caused fourteen people to be amputees, and injured over one hundred more people; they took away our sense of safety; they imposed on our celebration. Forgiveness for the Tsarnaev brothers is far from our minds.
Unfortunately, this is not what Jesus calls us to do. Jesus says to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44b). Our enemies include the Tsarnaev brothers who persecuted us for our way of life. The only way I can personally forgive the Tsarnaev brothers is with the knowledge and compassion that they are children of God, just like you and me, and God loves them unconditionally. However, it does not mean we should allow the surviving Tsarnaev brother to live free and go without punishment. Paul writes that God ordains the sword for the government (Romans 13:1-7), which means the government to punish the surviving Tsarnaev brother within their means and within reason. It is important for the State to find the answers to our questions and to deliver a fair and just punishment, which will give us the grace of a trustworthy world. And the cries of the victims will be heard by a loving God.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the gift of forgiveness through Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Help us to forgive the Tsarnaev brothers for attacking our way of life. Remind us the Tsarnaev brothers are your children whom you love unconditionally. Guide the governmental authorities with justice and truth as they move forward in investigation. Lead us to forgive all others who are our enemies by showing them your love and grace. Thank you for welcoming us into your kingdom as your children. Thank you for forgiving us our great sin. Amen.
CNN Staff. (2013, April 25). Latest developments in the Boston bombing investigation. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from CNN U.S.: http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/25/us/massachusetts-boston-bombings-latest-developments/index.html
Thanks to the Triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Please answer the following reflective questions in the comments below. Please agree to disagree and be respectful to each other. (If you have not already done so, please also take a moment, to sign the comment covenant.) You can answer as many questions as you would like.
1. How do you rebuke “us versus them” divisions?
2. How do we possibly forgive and love the Tsarnaev brothers?