Oppressor and Oppressed: Thoughts from Red Lake

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Rev’d Peter Hoytema writes from New Jersey:

An article in The New York Times this morning (March 23) explored how Jefferey Weise, the young man who is believed to have killed 9 people this past Monday in Red Lake High School before he took his own life, bore striking similarities to the two students in Littleton, CO who killed 15 people in a similar tragedy at Columbine High School in 1999. According to the article, Weise also had neo-Nazi sympathies and had expressed his admiration for Adolf Hitler. He was also somewhat of an outcast who did not enjoy the acceptance of his peers. As the article put it, he was typically one of the “disaffected youth who struggle to fit in at homogenous schools in rural and suburban areas, then erupt in violence to seek attention, exact revenge and gain power over people who have taunted them.”

The line in the article that really caught my attention was a quote from Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center who offered the following bit of commentary on this tragedy: “Kids like this feel extremely powerless, and they want to associate with the oppressor, not the oppressed.”

What a striking contrast to the supreme act of love and non-violence we see in the crucifixion of our Lord. Jesus Christ, one who was ridiculed and rejected like no other human has ever experiencd, did not respond to his oppressors in kind. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered he made no threats” (I Peter 2:23). The oppressed refused to become yet another oppressor, and in so doing he secured God’s acceptance of all people–all who are numbered among the oppressed of the world, and all of us who at one time or another play the role of the oppressor. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24).

That is the light of the gospel that backlights the cross and all our somber Holy Week reflections. In the wake of this terrible act of violence, I find myself wondering whether this tragedy could have been avoided if only Jefferey Weise had experienced the love of Jesus, who still today identifies with all who are oppressed, and by whose oppression all are embraced by the acceptance of God.

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