Finally, all the leaders of that town that is nearest the body will wash their hands over the heifer that had its neck broken at the stream and say, “We didn’t kill this man and we didn’t see who did it. Purify your people Israel whom you redeemed, O God. Clear your people Israel from any guilt in this murder.” Deuteronomy 21:6-8 (MSG)
I watched with interest this past Sunday night as my beloved Cubs played the New York Mets. It was the 10th annviersary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and during the pregame memorial service the camera panned across the crowd. There were many hardy New Yorkers, both men and women, who were reduced to tears. Ten years later, the events of that day are still felt deeply in the community.
I grew up in the city and have lived in small towns with populations from 300 to 10,000. It’s interesting to look back at events that affected the collective community. Some of them a very public events like the floods of 1993 that left an entire city without running water for ten days. Even more private tragedies and shameful events, that people don’t care to acknowledge or discuss publicly, can have a tremendous effect on the community as a whole.
In today’s chapter, I found it interesting that God prescribed a very public ceremony in the event of an unexplained, mysterious death. It reminded me that communities, like individuals, sometimes need to experience a period of introspection, acknowledgement, and confession coupled with ritual to seek forgiveness or absolution. When a community fails to process tragedy in a healthy way, the suppression of fear, anxiety, and guilt will surely attach itself to the community in unhealthy ways.
Today, I’m reminded to be aware of and pray for the local community in which I live, and the people around me with whom I carry out daily life.