Monday, January 24, 2011

Thought of the Week: Crime and Punishment

For our thought for the week, we're going back to the Apopthegmata Patrum!

It is a story reminiscent of a scene from Victor Hugo's Les Miserables; the convict Jean Valjean escapes with the Bishop's valuable silverware, only to be captured and returned to the Bishop by the police. "The Bishop gave me the silverware," Valjean lies. And then the Bishop does the most curious thing: he agrees. Emphatically. But it doesn't stop there--he eyes Valjean angrily, and asks,

"Why did you not also take the candlesticks, Valjean? I told you to take the candlesticks, as well."

He fetches the silver candlesticks, and forces the thief to take them, as well, thereby giving away the only remaining valuables the Bishop owns in this world.

Once, while Abba Macarius was in Egypt, he discovered a man who owned a beast of burden engaged in plundering the good Abba's goods. So he came up to the thief as if he was a stranger and helped him to load the animal. The Abba saw the man off in great peace, saying, "We have brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. The Lord gave and the Lord took away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."
What does it mean to own something? I mean, to really, really have true possession of an item.

What do you make of the Abba's response to the sin of the thief? Putting this in a more contemporary context, was it wrong for Macarius to let the thief go? What about "personal responsibility"? Didn't Macarius have an obligation to report the rapscallion to the authorities? How might the philosophy behind this story be applied in a mundane, everyday setting?

Your thoughts, please.

1 comment:

  1. What should I do when someone steals my X? Give him my Y.
    What should I do when I catch someone loading up my stuff? Help her.
    What if he hits me? Turn the other cheek. Takes my shirt?--Give them my coat, etc. etc. etc.

    The point is made throughout most “wisdom literature” and could not be made any more clearly: There is NEVER a valid reason for retaliation against anyone for anything.

    So, why is it that billions of trees (and terabytes of bandwidth) have been consumed with ifs, buts, and howevers that make all sorts of grays out of these crystal-clear, black-and-white answers?

    I believe the authors of these scenarios are doing everything in their power to get us to see the gaping holes in our most fundamental view of what it is to be human.

    So, rather than add to the mountain of attempts to dilute these stories, I think we should be seek to understand the kind of world-view in which they would make sense--the kind of world-view that the authors, including Jesus, seemed to have found to be the truth.