The gospel this morning tells of the coming of John the Baptist with his strident message of repentance. He is a very uncomfortable figure for most of us because no one likes to be reminded that they are a sinner. The homily this morning seemed to soft peddle this harsh prophetic figure calling him a perfectionist. I found myself getting angry and I will tell you why.
Last night I watched a movie called The Rape of Nanking. It tells the story of the capture of the city of Nanking by the Japanese in 1937. The Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek had just evacuated to a safer location and most of the army went with them. In the weeks following the fall of Nanking, the populace was subjected to a horrendous time of rape, pillage and murder. The story is told through the investigations and interviews of Iris Chang, a young Chinese-American author. Having been deeply moved by a photographic exhibition showing many images of the slaughter, she decided to write a book because there were no books in English on the subject. Indeed, she called it the forgotten holocaust. The movie is told from her perspective as she interviews surviving victims and Japanese soldiers. Her investigations led her to the diaries and papers of several western observers caught in the city at the time of the massacre.
To this day, there are those who categorically deny that these events even happened. Many Japanese politicians have spoken out, saying that these events were grossly exaggerated or had not happened at all. According to some sources all that occurred was a search for Chinese soldiers who had shed their uniforms and were hiding in the city. Iris Chang came away from this experience with a profound conviction that any of us are quite capable of perpetrating these sorts of horrors.
People do not like to be reminded that they are sinners. Evil, after all, is something that happens out there perpetrated by psychopathic monsters. It can't happen here, to us? We're better than that, aren't we? There are people around us who remind us that we really are capable of some pretty nasty things. Last night I found watching The Rape of Nanking a profoundly uncomfortable experience but I forced myself to watch anyway. Iris Chang deserves to be listened to, as does John the Baptist from this morning's gospel. They do not deserve to be thrust down a well like Jeremiah, whose only crime was that he upset people.