Trying to hold tight to the bonds of our shared humanity

By The Revd Canon Andy Bryant Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care - 29 March 2022

The scenes from Mariupol are beyond belief. A once thriving city reduced to rubble, relentlessly shelled with no regard for human suffering, reduced to a place of fear, hunger and death.

What goes though the minds of those undertaking their bombardment? Perhaps the consequences of their actions are kept from them by their commanders, or in fear of their commanders they feel they have no choice but to obey. But somewhere in the chain of command, a story is told, a myth is peddled, that distorts the residents of Mariupol in the mind of their attackers. Something allows them to be seen as inferior, a threat, traitors, enemies. Or maybe the lie is told that there is no suffering, the residents have left or that this action is necessary to liberate the residents from their oppressors.

In some way the essential bond of shared humanity is broken, allowing one part of humanity to turn and destroy another, with the justification that They are not like Us.

And what went through the minds of the soldiers as Jesus is brought to them? Perhaps they were well supplied with beer as reward for what they were about to do, and so acted through a blur of alcohol. Or maybe the reputation of the Roman Governor was such that they did not dare do otherwise. Living in a foreign land, amongst a people with a strange religion, and with a constant fear of possible insurrection, maybe their pent-up frustration just spilled over.

But somehow it was made alright to strip him, mock him, spit upon him and draw blood with their cruel crown of thorns. Half spurring the crowds on to bay for his blood and half trying to keep them at bay, they push and shove him through the screaming crowd. At will, without a second thought they pull a man from the crowd, who was too slow to duck out their way, and he is forced to join this dark procession. Pumped with adrenalin, none of them even comment as they hold him down and drive nails through his flesh.

Their work is done; by their actions they deny any connection with this their fellow human being. The crowds join in with their mocking - inhumanity is reaped on one whom they have dehumanised. And that is where it should have ended.

The centurion knew the form. Not the best way to die but this was the way to keep law and order when occupying a foreign country. He had witnessed it more times than he could count and, when the deed was over, leave the bodies hanging there, so the passers-by would remember who really ruled this land. Only something changed, something in this one death touched him. Somehow, in some way, the human connection was not broken. For all that he was used to this brutalising way of life, he felt, saw or heard something. He could not help himself, and the words spilled out: Truly this was the Son of God.

Reflecting on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, Bishop Desmond Tutu says that the beginning of forgiveness is “to see that there is humanity in my tormentor’s eye, that the one who hurt me may also have cried”

When we allow the bond of our shared humanity to be broken, when we deceive ourselves that the other is not like me, that is when terrible things can happen.  Desmond Tutu continues: “To treat anyone as if they were less than human, less than a brother or a sister, no matter what they have done, is to contravene the very laws of humanity.”

Our hearts go out to the people of Mariupol; a great evil is being wrought against them, and against so many other Ukrainians trapped in too many other cities …and worse may still be to come. Yet, as we rightly condemn what is happening to them, if there is ever to be any chance of reconciliation, of a just and lasting peace, we must not in turn dehumanise the oppressors. Hard as it is to say, and for all their actions repulse us, they too remain our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As we recall again the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus, it is tempting to speak harsh words against those who so bruise and break God’s own dear Son. But this is not what Jesus would want us to do. He comes to show us a different way, to show us that no one, no matter what they have done, is ever separated from the love of God.

Even in the darkest hour we must not allow the bonds of humanity to be broken, even when others seem to run roughshod over them, we must ask for the grace to remember, we remain brothers and sisters in Christ. It is only in this knowledge that humanity can begin to heal the wounds we all too often inflict upon ourselves.

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