Shock, dismay, anger, heartache. On Saturday, Oct. 27, when I first heard of the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I was over-whelmed with emotion. Another congregation attacked in their place of worship, more people of faith dead and, not only members of their clan, but a whole community plummeted into grief by the violence of an angry, misguided white man with weapons. These tragedies never fail to send shivers through my body and soul.
Like the Sister Emmanuel Church in Charleston, this synagogue was a light in their neighborhood. These are people who extend acts of charity and kindness in the places where they live. Senseless.
But as I read the next week’s lectionary passages for All Saints Day and the following Sunday, I was struck by the juxtaposition of the stories. The reality of grief, death, and new life in the story of Lazarus (John 11) for All Saints paired with a conversation between Jesus and a scribe about the greatest commandments in Mark (12: 28-34) reminding us of the foundational meaning of life and what it means to be a person of faith, to “love God and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.”
Without re-telling you these stories in this space (you’d do well to read them for yourself) … these stories laid side by side are like a teeter-totter of truth, the realities of life we straddle. We know life promises suffering and death on the one hand. We go to great lengths to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the threats of pain and loss, seeking security in our homes, in our work, even in our faith.
Then on the other hand, we know the truth that when it comes down to it, love is really the only thing that matters in this life. And love is risk. Love is vulnerable. Love not only feels pain, but willingly shares the pain of others.
So I was particularly moved by a short article by Ari Mahler, the Jewish nurse who was at the hospital when the suspect in the Tree of Life massacre was brought in. Ari has been anointed a “saint” by some when he helped save the life of the shooter, but his words were what stuck.
“I’m sure he had no idea I was Jewish ... I wanted him to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong ... Love. That’s why I did it. Love as an action more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope. It demonstrates humanity. It reaffirms why we’re all here ... .” (quoted from his Facebook page).
I couldn’t have said it better, I only hope you and I can do love as Ari did in that moment of pain.
Note: The lectionary is a three-year cycle of Bible readings for each Sunday of the year that includes a Hebrew Scripture passage, a Psalm, a New Testament Epistle and a Gospel reading.