Sunday, May 12, 2013

In Honor of Mother

(Note: At the time this was written and posted no burial site had been found for Tamerlane Tzarnaev. He has now been buried in an Islamic cemetery in Virginia but the county officials in the county where the cemetery is located are looking into ways to have his body removed.)

Paul Keane was raised by a mother who, at least in one regard, attempted to instill her standard of righteousness (right behavior) in her son. Paul credits his mother with teaching him to “love thine enemy.”

Paul does not name the source of his mother’s insistence that even one’s enemy is deserving of love. Her admonition sounds very close to statements from the Christian Scriptures; particularly the teachings of Jesus and the apostle Paul.

Mr. Keane has offered a gravesite for the burial of the Boston bombing suspect, Tamelane Tzarnaev. Public resistance has so far made it impossible to find a place in the United States where his body can be buried. There is an unused grave next to the one in which Mr. Keane’s mother is buried. He is offering that burial site on the one condition that its use be considered an act in honor of his mother’s memory. At present it seems unlikely that his offer will be received. Less charitable citizens are objecting to Tzarnaev’s burial anywhere in the United States.

Mr. Keane has received hateful letters and even veiled threats of violence against him but insists that in allowing the burial next to his mother he would only be living up to the principle she taught him. When someone suggested that having Tzarnaev buried on his mother’s plot might result in vandalism to her grave and marker. Mr. Keane responded, “I don’t think that would bother her at all. She was not a materialist.”

So far nearly 200 offers of burial plots have been proffered but none have been accepted because of objections by the officials in charge of the cemeteries where they exist.

When Jesus, the Messiah, was crucified he died between two “malefactors”. It isn’t entirely clear what their crime was, some say thievery, others murder, but for that time they were the worst of the worst. God, the Father did not insist that his Son be given any special consideration, though we are told he could have employed ten thousand angels to rescue his Son if he had wished. Instead the Son of God died a criminal’s death between two admitted criminals. One of the malefactors expressed his faith in Jesus’ coming Kingdom and was promised a place in it: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

God did not have to choose crucifixion as the means by which His Son would redeem the world. Many other forms of death would do. I’ve wondered though if God chose that mode of death – that day and that place – because he knew that on that day a pariah of a man would be dying there and that His Son could offer him eternal life.

Most Muslims see all Americans as Christians. From a truly Christian point of view our nation is about as far from “Christian” as any society on earth. We know that only a fraction of Americans are devout followers of Christ. But in the minds of Muslims in many lands, the actions taken by any American is representative of what Christianity is all about. Certainly the hate-filled, eye-for-an-eye denial of a decent burial for one of their faith can only reinforce stereotypes that are harmful to our nation and to the Christian faith.

Mr. Keane has taken a step toward “loving his enemy.” Tzarnaev’s body is incapable of receiving any love but those who care about him and are desirous of giving him a proper burial, according to their customs, are not beyond the power of love. If America wishes to be seen as a beacon of goodness in the world it could do well to follow Mr. Keane’s mother’s advice and show some love – or at the very least, respect – toward its enemy.

When King David heard that the bodies of his enemy, King Saul, and that of his son, Jonathan, were being displayed and held up to scorn he sent men to retrieve them and give them a proper burial. That act helped establish him as a fair minded man in the eyes of those he hoped to have as his subjects. Not a bad strategy.

I applaud Paul Keane for his offer, made nearly on the eve of Mother’s Day. What a gift it would be to his mother’s memory to have her remains lying next to one who could have benefited by her advice.

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