To this day I remember a particular lecture at the school of journalism I attended. It was about death; how it wasn’t news. We all die. A measure of its newsworthiness is that most deaths, if they make the newspaper, they are reported in the obituary section: a place people pay to have that news printed.
Television and radio don’t even have that.
But then, the lecturer said, it’s obvious that some deaths make the news, make big news.
Now some of that has to do with celebrity… someone well known. A public figure, politician, movie actor, pop star, these get our attention because of our sentimental attachment to people we think we know, who are familiar to us because we’ve seen their pictures a thousand times, watched their films, heard their songs; if a politician, we’ve voted for them, or against them. And so, we respond as if we do really know them; perhaps like a cousin we don’t see too often; nonetheless, we’ll talk amongst ourselves at the office, around the watercooler as it were, about this public figure’s death as we would at funeral home visitation for someone we actually do know, trading stories, information about them, as if we were somehow really connected. It’s a quirk of our psychology, but one that many eventually overcome. Many people openly wept when, for example, the Princess of Wales died in a car accident years ago. I can’t say that affected me in any way like that; but I was respectful about the whole thing, I didn’t mock Diana’s death, or those who grieved.
But my prof then said to set aside that particular category of the famous, and then to consider the great mass of humanity. Someone dies, is it news?
Well, you had to figure something out, revealing something that is perhaps not very nice about us as humans, but you had to ask the question, and it sounds dismissive of the countless lives that pass every day, and it raises to awareness something unseeming about you and I; but you had to ask, “who cares?”
And that question was to be asked in earnest. Who cares? Or, why should anyone care? How does this death concern you and I?
It’s an inquiry into self-interest, self-concern, fear.
You might not read a few paragraphs about some poor soul knocked over by a bus on King Street until that death becomes connected to other transit accidents in the city, then suddenly you realize, ‘hey, I live here, is it safe to walk downtown? am I in danger of being run over by a bus? And then you devour the story, and you think about it; it worries you a little.”
Now if that story took place in Montreal or New York, you wouldn’t be as apt to care. When am I going to be in Montreal or New York?
That’s why even the most tragic deaths in foreign lands don’t make the news. That’s why we know only in the abstract the horrors perpetrated by the Chinese Communist government against its internal enemies; why we are blissfully unaware of the terror of Boko Haram in Nigeria, or the Taliban in far away Afghanistan. We don’t know the details of the corrupt court proceedings that condemn many an innocent to prison, to death in foreign lands because it’s hard in the midst of our own busy lives, our own problems to concern ourselves with people we don’t know, in a far away place subject to an evil, an injustice that is likely no threat to us.
For those who do take an interest in such things, who protest over China’s annexation of Tibet, it’s persecution of Uighurs, it’s crackdown in Hong Kong; it’s frustrating to run into… I won’t say utter indifference of so many of us, but rather our vague awareness and distraction from these things by our own worries and concerns.
Today we’re told a story of a death; and I hope our attention to it doesn’t come from Jesus being well, a celebrity of history; one of those handful of names, like Cleopatra and Abraham Lincoln, that have come down to us through the ages, and so we know is in some way important and ought to take some of our attention.
No, we should ask ourselves, “why should we care? Why should I care?”
And I hope we have the wisdom to see that while this was something that happened two thousand years ago, and very far away, that while Pontius Pilate and the Roman Empire are not threat to us, while the Temple authorities of long-ago Jerusalem cannot menace us; that the what Jesus faced in these three days was something that imperils us to this very day. The forces of sin and death, these are real. And they come in the form of our everyday worries distracting us from what ought to be our true concerns; our sins of omission that have us forget our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world, our sins of commission that divide us here, within our nation, our immediate community, our family, what separates us from the love of God and keeps us from the eternal communion He offers us.
Jesus defeats our enemy and destroys sin and death as that which truly threatens us, but it is not merely a spectacle for us to watch, a fact of history for us to consider when we’ve time, but this is a sacrifice we need to be a part of, a death we need to share in, so that His life can come into our lives, and we live together forever.
For a video of the homily, click here.