A man in prison was interviewed about his history of serious crimes against women. His brain scan was picked over by a neuroscientist. The neuroscientist said that the man with his crimes was wired differently in his brain to most people. He had pathways missing and bits that didn’t light up. The neuroscientist declared the criminal unable to tell right from wrong, but did not excuse him from any responsibility,
I ironed a t-shirt belonging to my husband. Fastened on the T-shirt, somewhere in the vicinity of the heart was a pink ribbon – something to do with breast cancer. It was girly-pink, not boy-pink and, perhaps not something a boy would consent to wear. I thought about the contrast between the man and his crimes and my husband and his pink ribbon and what they said about the two of them. Could the man and his crimes ever wear a pink ribbon?
My husband has a collection of ribbons, enamel pins and plastic bracelets for different causes. He doesn’t just put the money in the box and the ribbon in his pocket – he wears them long after the campaign has finished. He wears his heart, not on his sleeve, but on his wrist, or on his lapel or on his heart in a pink ribbon.
I was reading the story of the rich man stumbling up to Jesus. What could he do to inherit eternal life? If it was down to being justified by the law he might have scraped something together with his keeping from a boy some of the Ten Commandments.
“You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honour your father and mother.” Mark 10:19
There are too many of the commandments are missing for the man to be that confident. None of the ones about God are listed, or the one about coveting the neighbour’s donkey. How easy it would be measure our qualification for inclusion in the kingdom on the basis of what we didn’t do. The man with his crimes – he did commit murder. He has excluded himself through his actions from God’s Kingdom – or perhaps not depending on what he does later.
Murder is defined as “the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.” Someone takes away the life of another and plans to do so. What would be the opposite of that? If murder is the “do not”, what would be the “do”. How might we restore life to someone? Maybe it’s a word of healing that restores their life. Maybe it’s a word of encouragement that restores a broken spirit within.
To steal is to “take (another person's property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it.” Again with the taking, not a life this time but a person’s possessions. What would be the opposite of that? If stealing is the “do not” what would be the “do”? What should we be giving to someone rather than taking away?
The rich man perhaps never had the need to kill someone. He certainly never had the need to steal from someone. But he had the riches to give to someone and take away their need to steal. Maybe Jesus would never have challenged the rich man if he had been using his riches to bless other people.
Living life according to “do not”, when we probably “would not” anyway seems to give us an advantage. It is a different story when we work out what the “do” is in each case and make steps to do it, not to earn our way into the kingdom, but to show that we are participators in it.