I am very sure that today's title may have been your initial reaction when you first saw last week’s 19+2=22 blog. You may have wondered if it was a mistake. "This is simple math, so why this error?" I am sure you may have wondered if no one noticed the error. There may have been many thoughts running wild in your head over why such a simple error. If you wondered about it, you are in such great company. You are in the company of those who knew there was something wrong with my math - you may have thought about the missing or forgotten one.
It is heartbreaking to be the forgotten one and I really don’t think it is a nice place to find yourself. I look at the life of Judas Iscariot - the pariah, the forgotten one, or the missing number. He became the black sheep among his friends after he betrayed Jesus. It was this betrayal that led to Jesus’ crucifixion and, for that, his friends couldn’t forgive him. He couldn’t even forgive himself, because he found his actions so egregious that he killed himself over that. He’s had a bad rap since then.
Matthew has Jesus say this about the betrayer: “For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born.” But the question is, how would the redemptive purposes of God be accomplished if the Son of Man had not been betrayed? How would the prophecies about the Suffering Servant or the Messiah come to pass? As awful as it may sound, sometimes we need the pariah to remind us of our own need for grace, we need the forgotten one to challenge us to love our enemies, we need that missing name to remind us of the difficulty in forgiveness and reconciliation, and yet, to resolve to only pursue that path.
It seems, to me, that this is why the gospel is often so difficult for us to fathom - that the 18-year-old is as much a child of God as any one of us, that Judas was as much a child of God as St. Paul. That all who cause any kind of pain - big or small, significant or insignificant - are also God’s children, and each of them deserves as much of our love as possible, even as we nurse the very wounds that they have inflicted upon us.
I have reflected and prayed a lot for the 18-year-old shooter. I wonder. What went wrong? How did he get to this point in his young life? What got him to a place where another person’s life - even his own grandmother’s life - meant as little to him as his own? How did we fail him? What issues was he dealing with? Did he have a challenging life growing up? What has life been for him?
It is incredible how life leads us on different paths, the various circumstances and situations that life leaves and leads us, and the kind of choices that we have to make - some good ones and not-so-good ones. But as Robert Frost reminds us in his poem The Road Not Taken, we cannot take both paths; we can only take one. And when you take one path, it may be nearly impossible to return and take the other path. He concludes that the path we take makes all the difference in our lives. What, then, is it that made a difference in this young man’s life? What is it that makes a difference in your life? Which road did you decide to take, or not to take, that has made all the difference in your life?
There is a story of a woman who, one night, was waiting at an airport. With several long hours remaining before her flight was to leave, she hunted for a book in the airport shop, bought a bag of cookies, and found a place to drop.
She was engrossed in her book but happened to see that the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be, grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in-between them. She tried to ignore it in order to avoid a scene.
Instead, she munched the cookies and watched the clock, as the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock. She was, however, getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by, thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.”
With each cookie she took, he took one too, and when only one was left, she wondered what he would do. With a smile on his face and a nervous laugh, he took the last cookie and broke it in half.
He offered her half, as he ate the other, she snatched it from him and thought, "Oooh, brother. This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude, why he didn’t even show any gratitude!"
She had never known when she had been so galled and sighed with relief when her flight was called. She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate, refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.
She boarded the plane and sank into her seat. She sought her book, which was almost complete by this time. As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise... there was her bag of cookies, right in front of her eyes!
"If mine are here," she moaned in despair, "the others were his, and he tried to share." Too late to apologize, she realized with grief that she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.
The heartbreak in this story is that this woman couldn’t go back to apologize, to make things right with someone she suspected of stealing her cookies. It was too late.
You may be older than 18 but you may be making choices which are not only akin to the 18-year-old who remains nameless, forgotten, and a pariah, but also the woman who wrongly assumed that someone was stealing her cookies.
God has gifted us with the ability to make choices, and so when you are confronted with making a choice, choose the path that honors others, fosters peace among all, engenders graceful living, promotes kindness, and binds all with love.
That’s the one path that will surely make all the right difference in our lives.