Friday, March 26, 2010

Father, Forgive Them, They Know Not What They Do

The following is a reflection written by Michael Massengale, one of this year's volunteers living at the South House.

Now two others, both criminals, were led away with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” They divided his garments by casting lots.

Working with torture survivors, I struggle to cope with anger. I always assumed working with trauma would illicit feelings of sadness or grief, but in reality, my sadness always transforms into anger.

I grow angry at so many things at work. I grow angry with these governments that use such brutal methods to consolidate power. I grow angry that our immigration system treats my clients like criminals. I grow angry when the federal government audits us and chastises us for giving our clients “too many services.”

Most of all, I grow so angry when I see the state of some of our clients. Most never sleep; they can’t fall asleep, and even if they do they are awakened by nightmares. Many clients are unemployed because they’re not authorized to work. Many were doctors or lawyers who will never again do what they love because they can’t overcome obstacles of processional boards that look down on their foreign degrees.

My anger is corrosive, and it does me no good.

Who would be the crucified Christ, today? Jesus was a non-violent teacher pleading for justice for the marginalized. He was targeted, arrested in the dead of night, denied a fair trail, tortured and brutally executed.

It’s like a client of mine who was kidnapped and tortured for teaching children to read. It sounds like a client of mine whose entire family was beaten and raped because he led a youth organization that encouraged voting. It sounds like a client of mine who was arrested and tortured at the age of 17 for putting on a play advocating peace. It often seems like nothing has changed in 2000 years, and it makes me so angry.

Some of my clients find solidarity with the tortured Christ. One of our clients recently made this comment to a group of students. She was asked, after her torture and rape in Latin America, where she thought God was throughout her trauma. “As it was happening, I grew angry; God, how could you do this to me? After a time, I grew sad; how could you let this happen to me? After many years, I have realized that Jesus was not torturing me or permitting my torture. Rather, he was being tortured and raped alongside me.”

We often focus on Jesus the Christ and fail to acknowledge what a remarkable human he was. When anger threatens to overwhelm me, I try to remember what he said. He had been kidnapped and beaten in the night. He was mocked and condemned by some of his religious leaders. He was brutally scourged with rods. He was crowned with thorns. He was mocked by Roman soldiers. But he asked God for forgiveness.

When we picture torture, we typically picture the violence, but we often fail to appreciate the emotional impact. What could Jesus have felt when he was betrayed by his friend Judas, denied by Peter, and mocked by the guards? Who would have blamed him if he cursed them? Who would have blamed him if he lashed out in anger? Who would’ve blamed him if he refused to allow himself to be sacrificed for such a brutal people?

But instead of anger, he reached out for forgiveness. He begged God that he pardon those who beat him, those who mocked him and eventually those who executed him.

Jesus the human being, the lowly carpenter, the refugee, who pleaded for love and justice, begged God to forgive them. “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”

I need to believe his words. Is it fair to assume that the torturers of my clients don’t realize what they are doing? Do they realize that the object they are striking is a human being who will never sleep a full 8 hours again? Do they realize their actions will bring a human being to a point where they are so lost and so broken that they wish they died in that torture chamber? Does the politician realize that unjust laws keep my clients in limbo for a decade?

No. I can’t believe they know truly what they are doing.

We humans have such a limited vision. All I see is their pain so I react in anger. These people don’t see the agony that persists for a lifetime.

Father, forgive them.

Father, forgive us all because we do not know what we are doing. If I am to continue to work for justice, I ought to avoid my corrosive anger and remember this incredible forgiveness that Jesus clung to throughout the worst moments of his life.