“The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
— Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
Wednesday evening, Sue and I were watching the movie, “Selma,” in the comfort of our own home. Perhaps you’ve seen it as well, and if so you will no doubt have etched in your mind some hateful acts of violence perpetrated by white supremacists against innocent black Christians during America’s so-called Civil Rights era. After one particularly brutal scene, Sue remarked to me, “and to think we were actually alive here in America back when that kind of stuff was going on.” My response to her was, simply, “it’s still going on.”
What I failed to understand at the time was that in those very next moments that evening, a young white supremacist was about to take the lives of 9 more black Christians inside the church building that had welcomed him in just an hour before.
It is not long after such evil is perpetrated that we humans begin asking questions about Why? And, naturally, who all is responsible? The world will present a mix of answers in the days to come, many in conflict with the truth. We who follow Jesus might also ask him in this time, “who sinned, Dylan Storm Roof or his parents?”
I wonder how Jesus might answer?
In the Gospel of John, chapter 9, we read of a young man whom Jesus healed of his blindness. Verse one begins with the disciples’ question, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” John uses the entire chapter to reveal Jesus’s entire answer. As the narrative goes, one finds that a simple act of healing by Jesus stirred incredible controversy, much as may happen around this Charleston Massacre of 6/17/15. Most of the tension was around how it is Jesus would dispense with an individual’s apparent sin carried by the common metaphor of blindness. In this simple narrative, Jesus is able to heal the person but NOT the group of Pharisees who are so quick to blame that person and his parents in the first place.
Perhaps the message for us as followers of Jesus today, quite in response to this awful murder allegedly perpetrated by young Dylan, is to be found in John 9:39-41 as the chapter ends with these words: “Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”
The guilt that remains among ourselves as Christians in America may well be our own. We who are old enough to remember (e.g., my wife and I) the utter brutality of racism from the 1950’s and 1960’s when our more innocent Caucasian eyes were first opened (by the likes of Selma) are now tied by Jesus to a higher standard. If we, having seen the violence of racism, now speak with any denial of it in regard to today’s America, it is we who truly ARE blind…………AND guilty!! My concern today is that if we in any way believe that this young man “acted alone” or came from some “bad family,” or was “mentally ill,” but was in no way acting out the racist norms of our greater culture, then our own blindness and guilt will far surpass his own.
Dylan Storm Roof may find himself healed upon request of the Christ whose forgiving grace was so nobly practiced by his victims’ family members in the Charleston courtroom. He may change. The larger question in my own mind is: will we remain the same?
Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim (italics mine) you can see, your guilt remains.”