By Deena Sherman –
Practicing Christianity is not easy. Jesus’ words in scripture warn us of that repeatedly. So as my heart breaks for those whose lives were directly affected by the evil acts of Tom Kokoraleis in 1981-1982, I am reminded of the most difficult calling of Christians: To accept that God’s radical grace is for everyone, not just those we deem worthy.
I understand weighing concerns for public safety and know that those who do not profess Christian values can measure Mr. Kokoraleis’ past by countless other standards, but I must admire Wayside Cross’s clear understanding of what is demanded of Christians. Wayside took in Kokoraleis recently after his fulfilling a 35-year sentence, which was cut in half for good behavior. He was part of a group which committed tragic and multiple murders. Others in the group were put to death.
Despite two earned degrees in theology, I don’t usually like quoting scripture, because so often it is taken out of context. On this issue, however, the gospel writers are abundantly clear about Jesus’ overthrowing of the ancient “eye for an eye” teaching that was predominant (Leviticus 24 et al). The gospels paint a frustratingly clear picture of what Jesus demanded of his followers.
I hated being told that I must forgive my brother 70 times seven when he wrongs me (Matthew 18). I related primarily to the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15). I always hated the parable of the workers who all get paid the same, though some work much longer than others (Matthew 20). I chafe at the idea that those who work a lifetime at obeying God and those who grasp at forgiveness on their deathbeds are both welcomed into God’s eternal presence, though this is precisely what Jesus tells us. I am like the rich young man who goes away crestfallen when Jesus congratulates him for keeping God’s commands and invites him to sell all he owns and accompany Jesus (Matthew 19). There is always a new challenge for those who feel they are doing well at discipleship. Just read Matthew and Luke in their entirety.
So what can we do when “offering the other cheek” to someone who strikes us (Matthew 5 and Luke 6) feels less like the act of resistance that it was intended to be in Jesus’ culture and more like a potentially dangerous response in 21st Century Aurora?
Although it is not our place to judge others’ transgressions, it is definitely our place to protect one another, especially those weaker than ourselves. Although we hope and pray that those among us who have harmed others can be rehabilitated, we can take this time to be extra vigilant that no one in our community is harmed. By anyone.
Be alert to your surroundings. Go the extra mile to be certain a friend or neighbor is safe, both out on the streets and in their own homes. Be your brother’s and sister’s keeper to a greater extent than ever. Look for those whom we can better love and protect, rather than who we can hate or exclude. I want to continue to believe that we are a strong, loving, community, not a fearful, vindictive one. So, as we have always done, let’s use adversity to show the world our very best selves.