Call your next witness

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office 

Psalms 38 (morning) // 119:25-48 (evening)

1 Samuel 20:1-23

Acts 12:18-25

Mark 2:13-22

If the Christian faith is about anything, surely it is about bearing witness to an unjust death. The central death in the Christian story is clearly unjust, even though it was justified by the logic of the authorities who sanctioned it. Christ’s death was not fair. It was not inevitable. It would not have happened if the political and religious leaders had not felt threatened by Christ’s ministry.

Of course, it is sometimes difficult to bear witness to unjust deaths in our own contexts. These deaths involve circumstances and legal questions that are more complex than what we find in the gospel narratives. These deaths also involve people who, like all of us, are a bewildering blend of the divine image with all-too-human flaws.

In a messy world like this, I often find that the Psalms point out what I need to see and hear more clearly. This morning, our Psalmist gives voice to what it is like to live as a hated and hunted human being. He describes his isolation: “My friends and companions draw back from my affliction; my neighbors stand afar off.” For some reason, the Psalmist repels his neighbors, who keep their distance from him.

The Psalmist also lives in fear of the traps that others set for him. The deck is stacked; the game is rigged. “Those who seek after my life lay snares for me; those who strive to hurt me speak of my ruin and plot treachery all the day long.” Wherever he goes, he might be walking into a trap.

The Psalmist lives surrounded by prejudice and suspicion: “Those who are my enemies without cause are mighty, and many in number are those who wrongfully hate me.” The people who hold these wrongful prejudices about the Psalmist are powerful and plentiful.

All of these words from the Psalm make for piercing commentary on the death of Trayvon Martin. The Psalmist touches on so many factors surrounding this unjust death: segregation and isolation in our neighborhoods, entrapment and weapons just waiting to go off, and misplaced fear and hatred.

Most important, this Psalm asks us simply to be witnesses rather than members of a jury. We are here to listen deeply and watch closely. To listen as people speak to us about the pain of segregation, danger, and prejudice. To watch as people expose the patterns that lead us to perpetuate violence.

It may be tempting to weigh in with opinions and judgments, but that is not what the Psalmist asks us to do in his case. Instead, he declares, “I have become like one who does not hear and from whose mouth comes no defense. For in you, O Lord, have I fixed my hope; you will answer me, O Lord my God.” The Psalmist leaves ultimate justice in the hands of God, and invites us to be witnesses rather than judges and juries.

I hope that we can all listen, watch, and bear witness both to injustice and to innocence wherever we glimpse them. After all, in the crucifixion stories, Christ was both a victim of state-sanctioned murder and a defendant on trial.

Inspired as a child by Maria Von Trapp, Luke Skywalker, and Jesus, Lora Walsh strives for wisdom, justice, and a simpler way.  She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas

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