Written by Steven Liechty
Aaron Maurice Saari
"Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself." - Matthew 27:5
I remember the phone ringing, and looking at the Caller ID to see that it was the local sheriff's office. My heart jumped, as my beloved schizophrenic brother had been missing for three days. I know I answered the phone—although I don't remember this—and said hello. The only detail I can recall clearly, eleven years after the day, is hearing: "We found your brother's body."
Scripture makes no explicit prohibition of suicide, but the writings of Augustine and subsequent Church leaders quickly made it into a mortal sin. They did this primarily by pointing toward the example of Judas.
Judas is the exemplar of everything Jesus is not; where Jesus dies for the salvation of all, Judas selfishly takes his own life. Where Jesus is brave and speaks truth to power, Judas is cowardly and sniveling. Just as there is no godliness in Judas, there is no godliness in those who kill themselves. They are left bereft, outside of God's grace.
We mourn the death of Jesus during Holy Week, yet we seem to revel in the demise of Judas. But for many people like me, Judas is a relatable figure. When my brother died, I was an atheist. A profound encounter with God at the lowest point in my life led to my conversion and, eventually, my being ordained in the UCC.
Sometimes God works in ways so shocking, so beyond our understanding, that we don't know what to do. If we don't allow ourselves to be shocked, we probably aren't entering fully enough into the mystery.
God, today we will allow ourselves to look for you in the places in which we've assured ourselves you do not dwell; today, we will take the risk to be shocked by your radical love.
Aaron Maurice Saari is the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Yellow Springs, Ohio, and the author of The Many Deaths of Judas Iscariot: A Meditation on Suicide.