Of the many stories of horror, cruelty, and courage to reach us from the Shoah, one in particular, witnessed by the Nobel-Laureate Elie Wiesel at Auschwitz, is especially poignant. It involves the summary execution of a young boy at the notorious death camp. The boy had been caught by a death-camp guard in some minor infraction of camp discipline. After questioning the child to determine his alleged “guilt,” the commandant decided to make an example of the boy to his fellow prisoners. So, he ordered the whole camp to assemble at dawn the next morning to witness the boy’s execution. When the prisoners had been herded into the freezing, snowy yard of the camp, the frightened child was dragged before them, stripped of his clothing, and hung from a makeshift gallows as the entire prisoner population watched in helpless horror. The camp guard who had caught the boy in his petty infraction then turned to a rabbi-prisoner and asked in a sneering voice, “So, rabbi, where is your God now?” The rabbi looked his tormentor in the eye and calmly pointed to the twisting body of the hanging child. “There he is,” the rabbi said, “hanging from your gallows.” Continue reading →
In the past year the Islamic State and its affiliates have opened our eyes to our capacity to commit cruelty to other human beings. Or, rather, ISIS has reminded us of our capacity for cruelty. I think we’ve known all along how inhuman we “humans” can be. The Passion Gospel we have just heard reminds us that human cruelty is nothing new, that we’ve known all along of our ability to do things cruel and brutal.
We might think that the news has desensitized us to the shock of the Passion Gospel. But I have a hunch that your reaction to it is similar to mine: as much as I have heard the Passion Gospel before, and as much as I read the news, hearing the Passion Gospel just now I’m feeling angry, dismayed, sad, helpless and confused. Continue reading →
I remember as a young man hiking in New Hampshire when, just off the trail, I saw a maturing oak tree – maybe 30 or 40 years-old – that looked to be growing impossibly out of solid rock. Fascinated, I walked over to take a closer look. As I looked around, I discovered that the solid-looking boulder actually had a narrow, natural crevice in the middle where, I imagined, the oak’s initial acorn must have fallen and found just enough dirt and moisture, and just enough depth, to allow it to put down roots and begin to grow. The initial crevice was wider now, with the matching, fractured sides of the rock being slowly pushed apart by the swelling trunk.