By Rev. Dai Morgan
When something occurs like the senseless shooting spree, this past Friday, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, one’s perspective of what is important changes. I have withdrawn my original piece for today’s Sunday Reflections column. Nothing else seems to have much significance after such a horrible event.
I will use this opportunity to make an observation in regard to the shootings at Newtown. Though in my profession I am a user of words, in fact, I do not have a desire to say much. First, at this time, I don’t have much enthusiasm for writing. Second, as a matter of respect, so soon after the event, I don’t want to speak. Thirdly, beyond my visceral reaction and the preliminary details, I don’t know much.
As I write, there are many details that are unclear or have not yet been revealed. What is known is that twenty young children and six adults have been killed at the school. The gunman, Adam Lanza, was also found dead at the scene. Shortly after, the murdered body of his mother was found in her home. By the time you read this, I’m sure that more information will be available.
I cannot imagine the pain experienced by the parents who lost children in the shooting. As a parent myself, when I try to image what it must be like, I can only go so far. The horror is too great and my empathy needs to be turned off. Let us pray for those who are grieving as a result of this nightmare.
My observation, then, is that this shooting at Newtown, this current event, has a biblical parallel. In fact, this parallel is part of the Christmas story. I am referring to the “Massacre of the Innocents” found in Matthew 2:16-18.
We tend to focus on the Nativity story as recorded in the Book of Luke. It is a story that inspires hope, joy and even awe. That’s the nature of Luke. However, Matthew’s Gospel is darker. The world of Matthew is hard and dangerous. There is clearly hope and joy in his message, as well. However, he takes us through a world of demons, disease and discontent.
Right from the beginning, in Matthew, the situation is troublesome. Jesus is born in rather muddy social circumstances. Then, strange foreigners show up with valuable gifts for the king of the Jews—which in itself is not bad. But, on the heels of these visitors, Jesus and his family are forced to go on the run—most likely financed by the gifts—because King Herod the Great, not wanting competition, felt the need to eliminate the child.
And then we have the horrible account of the murder of all the boys in or near Bethlehem who were 2 years old or younger. The ruthless Herod was not taking any chances in his search for the potential claimant to this throne.
In the glory of the coming of the Messiah there was a cost. A paranoid man decided to go on a killing spree. We often forget that part of the story. But, for Matthew, it is important.
On Friday evening, regarding the shooting in Newtown, CT Gov. Dan Malloy made the statement, “Evil visited this community today.” Of course, he is right. Evil is a part of the world in which we exist. Indeed, Matthew wanted us to see, right from the start, that Jesus himself had to contend with that fact.
Gov. Malloy also said, “We are all in this together.” In this he is also correct. As followers of Christ, our task is not to deny the evil in the world, nor even to escape it, but to recognize that we are all in this together. Our task is to overcome the world.
Our encounter with evil and pain is unavoidable. In some cases pain is so intense as to be life changing. Sometimes it leaves physical and emotional scars. The families affected by the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School will undoubtedly be in this category.
A frequent theme throughout the New Testament is the encouragement to support and care for one another. We cannot change what has happened. However, we can help one another in the face of tragedy. At the conclusion of II Corinthians, the Apostle Paul reminds us, “Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.”
It is a dangerous world. But, thank God we have one another. Let us give support where we can. Let us pray for strength and courage. And let us not be defeated by the evil around us.
The Rev. Dai Morgan is pastor of Living Spirit Ministry-Swissvale United Methodist Church.