That disappearance of the Saudi dissident at the Saudi Embassy in Turkey is causing much trouble. It seems that he went in one door looking for papers and didn’t come any other door, alive. His wife waited on him but he didn’t return. Turkish authorities believe he has been assassinated in broad daylight. Sinister black vans and cars shuffled in and out of the Embassy in the hours that followed. These same cars were tracked to a private aeroplane that flew from Turkey to Saudi Arabia that very evening. The Saudi authorities are allowing a visual inspection of the embassy but not a forensic search of the building that might detect blood, DNA or any struggle.
Today we hear in the midst of those words from the Gospel something that is very appropriate for the occasion, the great commandment recalled by Jesus that was given to Moses on Mt Sinai – thou shall not kill. Those words are very powerful, relevant for all times, alive and active, sharp as a two-edged sword, prudent and wise, as the book of Wisdom says in the first reading.
Every society worth its salt abides and lives by this commandment. Laws are built round these words. It is unlawful to take the life of another, its unlawful to put someone’s life in danger, it is unlawful to harm someone with the intention of taking their life. It’s a law that makes individual and families safe and secure from harm. No one will attack them, no one will endanger them, no one can threaten to take their life, it’s against the law of the land, it is against God’s law .
But it becomes even more heinous, if the government of a country, against its own laws takes the life of one of its own citizens, against every law and precept that it asks everyone else to abide by.
Today (tomorrow) in Rome, Pope Francis will canonise Archbishop Oscar Romero. He likewise was killed by a group of soldiers allied with the government of the day in El Salvador, and was shot while saying Mass. His only crime was speaking up for the poor.
History is littered with people who are killed in these circumstances. People who are dispensed with, removed, cancelled out because of their views. History is also littered with defenceless towns and cities put to the sword. Gangsters and shady elements within governments take the law into their own hands.
You might know that Pope Francis has changed in recent months the catechism of the Catholic Church that allowed for the use of the death penalty in dire and extreme circumstances. He now says it is not legitimate for the State to kill or put to death its citizens, through capital punishment.
There is something that is very terrible when a person kills or takes the life of another. But there is something even more terrible when a government feels that it can assassinate one of its own. It’s as if because of all its power, it feels itself untouchable, able to make decisions that it will never be held accountable for or have to be responsible to anyone. It is the worst kind of tyranny, it becomes like gangsters, who think themselves above the law. A government or a state which acts in this way loses all sense of legitimacy or moral authority.
Listening to those commandments that Jesus recalls in the Gospel of today’s Mass we realise that most civilised societies are built and operate on these God-given laws. Thou shall not steal, thou shall not kill, thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbour, thou shall not defraud, honour your father and mother and so on. If you allow killing, or stealing, or lies to be told or fraud to take place then the wheels come off the vehicle and chaos ensues. If you are free to kill or steal or tell lies, or to extort and be fraudulent then the result or consequences will be barbaric. The strong, the rich, the powerful, unscrupulous people will subjugate the weak.
Laws create order. They establish justice. They allow for fairness. They stop terrible things happening. They are often designed to defend the weak against the powerful and the wicked.
In that Gospel passage Jesus warns the rich and wealthy it will be hard for them to enter the kingdom of God. Every potentate, every heir to a fortune, every person who has wealth must quake in their boots at the sound of those words. There is something in that wealth and in those riches that will weigh them down, that will encumber them, that will be an obstacle to them to get into heaven.
Maybe it’s because wealth makes them think themselves untouchable. That those laws which Jesus recalls don’t apply to them. They are able to quieten their consciences. Live in luxury and comfort and break the rules and laws. How often we have heard in legal trials of people like this, that they have acted because they thought they were untouchable or could act with impunity.
We sometimes take for granted our laws and the places that these laws come from. They are there to create justice and fairness for all. We would certainly know all about it if they were not in place.
What a terrible thing it would be if we came to believe the killing of another, especially by the State, should go unrecognised. We would allow ourselves to descend into gangsterism and lawlessness of the worst kind.
There has to be laws which stand as pillars of what we believe and build our society on. As the book if wisdom tells us, there are prudent, wise words, stronger than sceptre and crown that are the firm foundation on which everything is built. One of those is clearly, thou shall not kill.