Most Sunday nights at 8 p.m., you will find Maureen and me at home watching Once Upon a Time. For those not familiar with this ABC series, it is, for all intense and purposes, ABC meets The Wonderful World of Disney. The basic cast of characters is comprised of almost every animated Disney character come to life in the small town of Storybrook, Maine. Here, this myriad of characters, banished from Wonderland, live in Storybrook unaware of who they are and from where they came due to an evil curse.
This remained their reality until the Mayor’s precocious, adopted son, Henry, found himself out of sync with the community, and by chance, is given a book of fairytales to feed his restless imagination. In time, Henry realizes the people of Storybrook are the characters of his beloved fairytales and becomes passionate about breaking the curse. This, he passionately believes can happen, because, good always triumphs over evil.
I suspect what draws me and others to watch this series each week is because deep down, there is a piece of Henry in all of us. It is that part of ourselves that wishes to return to a time when we too were willing to do battle with the evil that surrounds us, convinced that our good intentions and our passion could and would overcome the darkness we faced.
Sadly as time passes, and our innocence is slowly worn away, so too goes the passions and enthusiasm that somehow led us to protest whatever the ill of our generation was and along with it, our steadfast belief that good can and will overcome evil.
This is why it is important that we listen over and over again to Christ’s command to “love one another as he has loved us.” Love, as St. Paul explains in First Corinthians, is at the core of who we are as Christians. Unconditional love is who our creator is and, as Father Amaya reminded me this week, Jesus is the manifestation, the incarnation of divine love. And it is this love that can and does transform darkness to light.
And so this morning, we once again hear Jesus’ command to love one another as he has loved us. This is not an easy command. To love as Jesus loved, is to,“ love our neighbor as ourself;” to“love our enemies;” and to love so deeply that we are even willing to ask God’s forgiveness and mercy for those who choose to execute or kill us.”
In the ABC series Once Upon a Time, young Henry is both prophet and teacher. In his persistence, he goads the people of Storybrook into believing the curse can be broken as he constantly teaches that goodness cannot resort to evil, or magic to overcome evil. because as Henry tells the adult members of Storybrook, the use of magic always comes with a price. And in Storybrook we find the price of magic is quite steep. The price for Mr. Gold, aka Rumplestilskin, is the loss of his son. In the case of Regina/aka the Evil Queen, the price of magic results in a life of isolation and loneliness. It seems no matter how much power magic may give, misery is the price that must be paid.
In Deuteronomy, after God gives the Law to the Children of Israel, God ends with the words “on this day I give you blessing and curse, life and death choose life.” The message is clear, when we choose to follow the laws of God, life is gained. When we choose an alternative to God’s law, life is lost. As Henry would remind us, choosing evil over good comes with a price. In Genesis, the price for choosing the knowledge of good and evil over the will of God caused the loss of human innocence and the carefree life of paradise. Israel itself looses its sovereignty over the Promised Land when its rulers choose power and lust over the will of God. And Judas Iscariot finds life unbearable after he anxiously agrees to hand Jesus over to the Sanhedrin for the price of 30 pieces of silver.
While choosing evil comes with a price, to love as Jesus has loved us offers reward. I believe one of Jesus’ greatest gifts to humanity was his ability to restore our dignity. It is not a coincidence that one of our vows at Baptism is to respect the dignity of every human being. If we were to reflect on the stories of healing contained in the Gospels, what we would find is the constant theme of the restoration of dignity. Whether Jesus healed the blind, the deaf, the lame or even those possessed by demons, the act of healing was more than physical as it allowed the individuals to become part of/or resume living within the context of their communities. If you think about it, up until very recently, people with physical or mental disabilities, or those who became so stricken with illness to where they could no longer function independently were labeled as invalids. The term invalid, when pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable instead of the second is IN valid, meaning that those with physical or mental disabilities were perceived as IN valid or less than fully human people. Thus, when Jesus healed the blind, the deaf, the lame and those possessed by demons with the forgiveness and love of God, he literally demonstrated to the world that they too were fully human in the eyes of God.
Who are the invalid people of today? As a result of Civil Rights, those who were once perceived as less human have now finding the human dignity they so greatly deserved. And so as I asked this question, the image of Dzhokar Tsarnaev came to mind. I have been fascinated with the news over the last week. I have watched as photos of Dzhokar have been changed from those of him at graduation, to a head shot that offers us a darker image of him. And I have heard some news people refer to him as Dzhokar, the Boston Bomber, or Boston Terrorist. I even heard one newscaster refer to him simply as a scumbag. On one hand, I have been taken aback by the lack of professionalism by some members of the media. But on the other hand, I realize, as the media begins to align the image of Dzhokar with that of an inhumane monster their actions help us, as a nation, to come to grips with his behavior. After all, isn’t that what he and his brother deserve, since their alleged actions showed absolutely no regard for the human lives they took or destroyed. And I have to admit, it is, on some level, comforting to see Dzhokar as the monster he is being made out to be.
That was of course until I began writing this morning’s sermon and had to ask, is this how Jesus sees him. The same Jesus who asked the father to forgive those who executed him, the same Jesus who commanded his disciples to love as he loves us, and so I had to ask is this how Jesus wants us to see Dzhokar. Dzhokar, the nineteen year old young man whose heinous decision to kill has cost him his freedom. A nineteen year old, whose greatest hope is to live a full life in prison, separated from family and friends . . . a life, living in fear of the other inmates. . . a life with no future in lieu of being executed. Because this is the cost Dzhokar paid when he chose hatred over love, darkness over light, and to see us as less than human.
As I look this image of Dzhokar I realize the question we are left to ponder in the end is what price will we pay if we choose not to love Dzhokar as Jesus loves us? Because as Henry reminds those who watch Once Upon a Time, “doing magic (or choosing not to love) always comes with a price.