"Innocent Victim," Rev. Fred Kinsey
We kind of stumbled into the protest rally for Adam Toledo on Friday evening in Logan Square. I thought it was supposed to be on Saturday, but the hoards of people walking down the boulevard past our apartment carrying, Justice for Adam signs, was unmistakable.
We had already ordered our pizza from Reno, a restaurant right across from the Monument and public square where the protest rally was getting underway, so we quickly put on our coats and rushed out the door to join in. Not ideal, but we had a half hour before our pizza was ready to pick up!
It was by far the biggest rally I’d seen in Logan Square. Bigger than last year’s BLM protests in the same spot. Though, I would say, this was a continuation of that movement. And, part of the growing attraction here, has been, you can easily march to Mayor Lightfoot’s house, which is just a few blocks away. So, this particular gathering wasn’t just 50 or 100 people scattered on one side of the LGSQ Monument, but was filled all the way around, and spilling out into the round-about street circling the Monument, where Milwaukee Ave, Logan Blvd, and Kedzie intersect. Police were out, redirecting traffic, all around, for blocks. Most people were wearing face coverings, but around the Monument protestors were packed-in pre-pandemic style, and social distancing was scarce, except towards the fringes, where Kim and I found space.
As we gazed at all the protest signs: No Justice, No Peace; Defund the Police, and Justice for Adam, amongst others, Kim reminded me how Daunte Wright’s mother had said, “there’s never going to be justice for us. [to me] Justice would bring our son home to us.” And I recalled, that after Adam Toledo’s family had viewed the video, of his last moments of life, earlier in the week, the thing they urged Chicago to do now, was to focus on changing the systems that killed Adam: “The Toledo family implores everyone who gathers in Adam’s name to remain peaceful, respectful and nonviolent, and to continue to work constructively and tirelessly for reform,” as they stood in front of cameras they had never wanted to see.
The unyielding resoluteness, to yet another senseless death, this time of a young teenager, 13 years old, seemed to pervade this gathering, like a vigil as much as a protest. Just a day after the tragic video was publicly released of the needless death of Adam, city officials were framing the shooting in ways to protect the police and demonize the child.
But traumatized protestors were disbelieving. Jasmine Rubalcava, who lives “minutes away” from where Adam Toledo was shot in Little Village, brought her four-year-old son to the [LGSQ] protest. Like many Chicagoans, she opted out of watching the footage, saying, “no matter what’s in the video, he didn’t deserve to die.” (https://blockclubchicago.org/2021/04/16/thousands-march-in-chicago-to-protest-police-killing-of-13-year-old-adam-toledo-adam-deserved-to-live/ )
Karina Solano, an organizer with Únete La Villita, said, “Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing excused CPD having shot and killed him. Nobody deserves to die at the hands of the police, especially not kids. We don’t need to see the video to know that Adam deserved to live,” Solano said. (ibid.)
It is this idea of ‘the innocent victim’ that theologian James Alison identifies in the gospels, and in our Gospel Reading from Luke today. Jesus, the innocent victim, having been raised on the third day, just as he said he would, has revealed in his death and resurrection, the victory of love and peace and justice. Nothing, nothing, nothing, can excuse the death of Jesus, the innocent victim. Just as Peter says in his sermon from our Acts reading today: “Jesus…,” “the Author of life,” whom you handed over and rejected… though he… [deserved] release,” you killed, and instead let go, a guilty man, Barabbas, in his place. This is the fear of the families of George Floyd, Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo, but also of black and brown families everywhere, in America. The fear of their sons, becoming ghosts.
When Jesus appears to the disciples, in the evening, on Easter day, according to Luke, they are still confused and not yet, the believing Apostles, as we think of them today. Out of nowhere, Jesus suddenly stands among the disciples, like a ghost. And the first thing he says to them is, “Peace be with you.” Because, they are startled! You and I couldn’t do that, suddenly appear. But Jesus addresses their fear, and the inner dialog they are having with themselves, still so full of confusion on this Easter resurrection evening.
So, to assure them he’s not just a ‘spirit, a ghost,’ as was fairly common for people to do, then, and now, Jesus asks for something to eat to demonstrate he is more than a scary apparition. They gave him a piece of broiled fish, which he chewed and digested before them.
But his appearance as a New Being, an eschatological promise of new life, and the first-fruits of ‘the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,’ had more meaning than the prosaic debate between, spirits and physicality.
Jesus has returned like this, to confirm to them that he is the Messiah, the one who is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and thus, be our Lord of Life.
As Brian Robinette says, “The resurrection awakens true memory. It unseals the collective amnesia that has allowed us to suppress the injustice of our violent exclusions and expulsions,” as we did with Jesus, and like the world would have us do with Adam Toledo and Daunte Wright, and like we sometimes do to any person who is not allowed in as a full human-being, but is victimized.
But, Robinette continues, “the risen One appears to [us] in the midst of an unbreachable divide to restore communication … and offer [us] a renewed innocence, a second innocence. This new innocence is the offer of forgiveness. Just as Peter welcomes those responsible for Jesus’ murder to embrace the forgiveness offered to them by God, so too do we find running[,] throughout the New Testament[,] the intimate association of resurrection, forgiveness, and newness of life.”
And so precisely in our gospel today, the innocent victim, Jesus, inspires Luke to encourage us, “that repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”
Why is it that the families, and especially the mothers of their black and brown sons, are the ones calling for peace, even amidst receiving the news of their own sons’ becoming “innocent victims?!”
There is something that the mother’s, and families, and now even spreading to Chicagoans, and dare we say beyond, have experienced, in the loss of such unnecessary lynching’s. The transformation through death and deep grief, comes only in walking through, anger, denial, depression and every other emotion, that creates in us a holy resolution, to somehow move forward, to demand not just justice, but, new life, a new reality, a well-deserved healing and peace, a new way of being.
Never again do we want to see innocent victims! And so, it’s on all of us to demand and create the change Jesus came to give us. We can’t opt out because of white privilege; we can’t opt out even when our own dear child has been taken. We can’t rest on our laurels, knowing that Jesus gave his life for us 2,000 years ago. The ‘new life’ is a gift from God, but only if we make it into who we are, if we pray and work for it to come equally for all of us.
As we see in our Gospel reading today, it’s almost impossible to understand Jesus in his resurrected body, that first-fruit of the new creation God is making, already, now, through him. Was he spirit or flesh? Ghost or person? How could he be like us in the ordinary function of eating, but so unlike us in appearing and ascending?
But what is possible, is to love Jesus and love the Word of God, and thus to share in the journey of ‘understanding’ how he is ‘fulfilling scripture’ as our ‘suffering’ Savior, and our risen “innocent victim.”
In the midst of gathered communities every week, God is opening our hearts and minds to understand “that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations... You are witnesses of these things.”