One of the games that I am usually drawn into is the game where there is a puzzle of some sort and your job is to find the hidden image or in some cases the hidden words. I always enjoy the challenge to try and see something that is normally hidden in plain sight. I guess I enjoy that about life too. Do I have an accurate assessment of myself? Do I read a situation correctly? Where am I being deceived? How can I see what God sees? Remember, one of my favorite sayings is, “patience is a weapon that forces deception to reveal itself.” Ultimately, I desire to know what God is saying or doing in any particular situation.
Recently I was reading a short story about the day of a man’s pending execution. During the day, the accused man was ushered before a variety of people, including a judge, law enforcement and members of the public. I was intrigued by each encounter and the manner in which each person engaged with the accused and how the accused responded. I noticed that certain themes could be found with each encounter and found myself immersed in the picture as I would be with a puzzle and its hidden images. Where was I in these vignettes?
The first person the accused met on the day of his execution was a judge. The judge had final say on whether the execution would take place or not. Therefore, as the reader, there was interest on knowing what the judge’s verdict would be and what evidence was provided that would affect that verdict. However, it became quite obvious that the judge was somewhat annoyed by this situation and was being influenced by more than simple justice. The judge was using the situation to manipulate for his own motives, aspirations and pressure from some of his opponents. The judge was not too interested in the evidence; in fact, he seemed to dismiss most of it. He appeared cavalier as he made the decision to proceed with the execution, as if it was simply another minor item on his daily agenda. The accused had very little to say, though he was given a chance to speak.
I took the liberty to reflect how I behave similarly to the judge in situations that annoy me. Do I manipulate situations where I have the advantage, power and authority? Personal gain is very seductive. Does my behavior mirror that of the judge? I may find myself looking at a situation and easily defaulting to my own desires, opinions, felt needs and pressures and ignoring the bigger and more appropriate picture. Perhaps I don’t take time to listen, look at the evidence, and ask the right questions. I simply manipulate and move on.
The second scene of this short story unfolded as this accused criminal was ushered to a facility where various members of law enforcement prepared him for execution. The process appeared very routine. These officers, unlike the judge, had no authority over this criminal, but were simply following orders to prepare him to die. The story did not share whether any of them had their own opinion as to the innocence or guilt of the accused. However, they began to taunt, beat and severely mutilate him. I can’t imagine that this was legal, unfortunately, we see these things too often. Perhaps the accused had done something to harm one of the officers, perhaps the system allowed for this type of behavior or perhaps these officers were a group of “bad apples”. Either way, this man, without saying a word was beat badly.
I abhor this type of behavior and I winced as I read about the mutilation, I also identified with it. I ask myself; how do I mutilate (tough word, I know)? Sometimes I have the capacity to mutilate a situation. I can mutilate with words, with my passivity (looking the other way), with my ideology, with my lack of interest in another etc. Perhaps in my busyness, I ignore the poor. Perhaps in my gossip I destroy an opportunity. Perhaps in my selfishness I horde a blessing.
The day continues to proceed and the accused criminal is now being transported to the execution site, a place that is somewhat open to the public. The public begins to mock the criminal. Again, the accused says very little, and even when he does speak, his words and expressions are mocked by the crowd. I am always leery of what a crowd may chant or do. News feeds today often show crowds chanting something, destroying property and holding homemade signs. Sometimes when a member of that crowd is isolated from the moment and they reflect on the experience, they show remorse and regret their participation. Sociologists have studied how crowds can often develop a mind of their own.
Staring at this puzzle and looking for the hidden images and words, I wonder if I am ever guilty of mocking. Sometimes my sense of humor is a form of mocking. Sometimes my cultural bias may mock another. Sometimes my opinions or political persuasions may mock those of others. I mock when I don’t understand. I mock when I feel threatened. I mock when I am being lazy. Mocking, though tempting and often initially invigorating, is rarely profitable and often judged harshly.
The short story ends with the execution of the accused criminal. The judge has moved on to more meetings, the officers to another assignment, and the crowd dispersed to their evening meal. The story could appear somewhat meaningless and hopeless… actually depressing. However, there is one final scene; an advocate appears and asks permission to bury the body. Life had moved on for everyone else and yet this lifeless body had not been claimed. The advocate, perhaps a family friend, a distant relative, a compassionate stranger in mourning the situation, claims the body.
I am not so sure I would have felt compelled to do what the advocate did for the accused criminal unless, perhaps it was my own child. However, for whatever reason, this man’s mourning led him to action. I asked myself in reading this odd story, what is it that I mourn? Do I mourn or do I simply get angry, become dismissive and bury myself in my own perspectives? When was the last time I mourned? What causes me to mourn, and what actions do I take as a response to my mourning?
Reflecting on this story I am convicted that I could identify with each scene, character and attitude. The scenes became hidden images and words that became a mirror. I have the capacity to manipulate, mutilate, and mock. I do this because I am weak and learning to surrender. However, when I put myself into a posture of surrender and humility, I can’t help but mourn. I mourn my calloused heart; I mourn my selfish desires; I mourn my ability to belittle another; I mourn my temper, my pride, my lust, and the list goes on. The story is a profound one. It’s the story of the day Jesus was crucified on the cross. I am the judge, I am one of the officers, I am a voice in the crowd. I pray that I become the advocate.
Stephan N. Tchividjian is the president and founder of the National Christian Foundation South Florida. Visit southflorida.ncfgiving.com to learn more.
Read more articles by Stephan Tchividjian at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/stephan-tchividjian/