Two Sundays ago, Monsignor Gerry gave a sermon against extrajudicial killings. He mentioned the answer of Bishop David to Manny Pacquiao’s defense of the death penalty upon scriptural authority. But Bishop David studied scriptural theology in Louvain— the MIT of Theology.
After mass I went to Monsignor to ask him how to access David’s answer.
He asked why.
I said I had answered Pacquiao on Twitter but briefly.
How brief? he asked in an ecclesiastical tone.
I said I called him an idiot.
The priest did not say it but his look said more: my answer needed expanding.
He emailed me Bishop David’s answer.
It was of course correct—not just logically but scripturally. Yet I found it too kind and in a way patronizing. Bishop David spared Pacquiao what he knows about scripture, which is a universe by comparison to a grain of sand.
Let me try my hand at it.
Now, idiots who cite scripture never studied it. They think reading it is studying it; and that quoting it means knowing it. That is the farthest thing from the truth.
You and I use phrases from advanced physics. None of us pretends a doctorate in that field. We use words from quantum mechanics without understanding Schrodinger and his cat. But we do not cite equations like defenders of the death penalty cite scripture.
The most famous is “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” And presumably “a life for a life though I am not sure the last one is scripture. But the opthalmological and dental references—those I have encountered.
But far from a defense of the death penalty—and an incentive to barbarity—an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is a counsel of moderation in state-imposed punishments; though probably not in private revenge. I think a Jew went to the Pharisees to get an eye from his neighbor but I maybe wrong.
Be that as it may, the counsel of a tooth for a tooth or any other organ for the same kind addressed the excesses of human nature. Before Leviticus and Numbers it used to be among the Jews as it continues to be among the Arabs:
A spleen for a tooth,
A family for an eye,
A clan for a life,
And the village if you take the guy’s sheep,
Because it happens to be his girlfriend.
So far from a counsel of barbarity, the Old Testament began with little nuggets of comparative moderation in the moral education of the race which God chose to be born in as His own Son. As Robert Barron put it: Throughout the history of the Jews God was trying them on for size; stage by moral stage; until they were ripe and ready to receive his Son. And that was a mistake; although it wasn’t the Jews themselves but the Italians who killed him.
The Son of the Father,
Who was the same as the Son,
Said to the creatures
He had made in his own likeness:
“He without sin cast the first stone.”
Even as who is not screwing around
Condemn the woman caught on video.
(I made that up.)
And if a man slaps you on the cheek do not wipe out his village but offer your other cheek as well. Yet Christ did not really have to tell them to respect human life, as one respects one’s own; and to love one another as one loves oneself and thereby become a trinity in one person just like God. For even in the Old Testament it was clear, right from the very first verses.
God made all living things already living—be they on the earth, in the water, or in the sky. But man he made out of clay. And it was dead. Until God put His mouth on the mouth of His creature and blew His spirit into it.
Man came to life with the breath of God. The very same breath the loving Father exchanged with the Son, and the loving Son with the beloved Father. And that breath, passing back and forth, said Augustine, is the Holy Spirit.
That is why the Church gets all hot and bothered, not so much that life is taken—men being what they are they will take it—but that some dare say
it is okay.
Not just in extreme cases but just to get a point across.
The taking of any life is a taking of the breath of God; which, by the way, not even God takes back.
We die at the hands of each other, or from sickness or old age, because of the wrong we did when we were still immortal as He made us at first.