#faithseeking: text of terror: torture (epic church fail)

as part of our ongoing quest to explore the churches in our new locale, this morning The Post-Dr and i took mass at St Paul’s, Withington, which is but a small bus ride away.

St Paul’s seemed like a nice little church, with a specific emphasis on quality choral music, evidenced by a large and talented choir and a carefully selected musical setting.

the choir sang the Mass for the Armed Man (A mass for peace) by Karl Jenkins, which was commissioned by the Royal Armouries Museum in 2000, and dedication to the victims of the Kosovo crisis. the first recording of the setting was released on 10th September, 2001, and as such became closely associated with the 9/11 tragedy, and has been used to also commemorate that event ever since.

it was a very pleasant setting, as was the service all told; spoiled only by one of the elements that lies beyond the control of those that planned it.

on this day above almost all others, what you would not want in a Gospel reading is precisely what the lectionary so thoughtfully offered this morning.

the story, from Matthew 18, of a slave who had a debt of 10,000 Talents (or 60,000,000 Denarii) pardoned by his master, but then failed himself to have mercy on another who could not repay him a debt of 100 Denarii, seems to offer a sound moral by suggesting that a failure to show mercy to another when far greater mercy has already been shown you, is a properly shitty thing to do.

however, the Gospel finishes as follows:

“When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you? And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

so, on the day that we are mourning not only the loss of the lives of those who died on 9/11, but also those of those others, soldiers and civilians, who have been brutalised and/or killed in the course of the deeply flawed and tragically ironic ‘war on terror’ that followed, we are ‘comforted’ and ‘inspired’ by a text that assures us that our God is one of those types who believes in torturing people until they do what you want.

perhaps it is entirely fitting for us to remember today that the Bible is itself as much a record of human failure and corrupt ideology as any history of the last decade, but i for one was left deflated by the reading.

(un)thanks be to God.

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