tragedy: a serious drama describing a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force (as destiny) and having a sad end that excites pity or terror.  E.g., the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex; Shakespeare’s “Anthony and Cleopatra” and “King Lear” among others.

The possibility of tragedy does exist for people of faith, but, thanks be to God, it does not happen nearly as often as the attachment of the word tragic to people and events that touch their lives might seem to indicate.
The word tragedy has a specific meaning. For a tragedy to occur, a heroic person engaged in a morally significant struggle must end in ruin and utter disappointment. In Christ that horrendous end just doesn’t happen that often. Judas was a tragic figure. Ananias and Sapphira were tragic figures. Their common tragic flaw was their love of money.
To attach the word tragic to minor or major catastrophes is to trivialize the word and convey a wrong meaning. Plane crashes and car wrecks can be disastrous, even horrific events. To call them tragic is to imply that victims of such events have been brought to utter ruin simply because they lost their lives. In Christ, with belief in the power of Christ’s dying and rising, that simply is not possible.
During the observance of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 many commentators spoke of the horrific events of that day and of the thousands of people that lost their lives in the collapsing towers and in the plane that crashed in the Philadelphia farmland. Don’t misunderstand me. The acts of terror were abominable. Those who lost their lives are mourned to the present day. If you listen to the heroic deeds of many of those caught up in the terror and chaos of those early morning hours in New York City, you cannot but be inspired and are likely to be moved to tears. Evidence of self-sacrifice for the common good is obvious, especially in the courageous actions of those who overthrew the hijackers and crashed the plane in that field rather than letting them hurl destruction on the White House. Greater love than this no one has than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Those on the plane did that and so did countless others in the towers who chose to stay back and assist others incapacitated and unable to negotiate the stairs. Then there were the fire fighters and their Franciscan chaplain. Love drove them to enter that horror in search of anyone they might rescue or with whom they might pray. The nation lost the presence of those great people. But the victims did not suffer defeat and utter ruin. Instead they were caught up in glory to live in that presence forever.
Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4) raged in the face of violence and ruin inflicted on the people. His assumption: God is absent when people suffer. But God challenged Habakkuk to see with the eyes of faith and remember God’s promise. God is the ultimate deliverer and life is God’s promise in spite of the havoc Habakkuk sees.
Bewildered disciples assess their failures, assess perhaps their perceived weakness in the face of the enormity of the demands Jesus expects his disciples to meet. At those low times, the common prayer is: Lord, increase our faith. Do they in fact wonder if they even qualify as believers? The answer depends on how you think a life of faith is lived, and what you think a life of faith will bring.
This probably sounds cynical, but you’ve heard me say before that I cringe when I hear people describe the wonderful things that came to them when they turned their lives over to Christ. They speak in terms of increased wealth, a more prestigious position in society, and power. So far, though, I haven’t heard a testimony that says becoming a Christian turned the clock back and the new believer reclaimed youth. (Read The Picture of Dorian Grey for Oscar Wilde’s take on perpetual youth.)
I remember listening to a businessman witnessing to the dramatic turn-around in his company that followed his conversion to Christ. The impression I got was that his accepting Christ made the cash registers that been silent suddenly begin to ring with the increase in customers and sales. Profits become an affirmation of the sensed predilection God has for the converted believer and a foretaste of the heaven to come. For such a one the downturn in the stock market could have tragic consequences.
Recently I heard a politician of the fundamentalist persuasion say that all this wretched weather we have experienced in this country, the floods and hurricanes in some areas and the draught and forest fires in others, and don’t forget the earthquake on the east coast that preceded Irene are signs of God’s displeasure with the American people. The tragic events should wake up the people. (And I suppose inspire them to vote for that politician. I won’t give away here the gender of the witness.) Really?
Again, the stories of the last moments of many of the people whose lives ended in the 9/11 events were not tragic. I pray no one interpreted what happened to them as a sign of God’s displeasure. Noble responses in the midst of terror and unfolding evil spoke of the triumph of the human spirit and in many cases of the profound faith evidenced in their meeting the ultimate challenge of evil. The courage that inspired survivors to clear the rubble, celebrate the dead and commit themselves to rebuilding and to the survival of a people is not the stuff of tragedy and defeat but of victory.
Disciples are people who are sent by Jesus as his other self to bear light in the face of threatening darkness. “If you would be my disciple, take up your cross every day and follow me.” That is what Jesus asks of disciples. When the forces of darkness, of hatred, of evil succeed in nailing the disciple to the cross, and when the disciple dies there, have we witnessed tragedy or the triumph of the Cross? It’s a matter of perspective. Might the fact that relics of martyrs are in the altar stones of the Eucharistic table tell us something in that regard?
And we haven’t said anything about the Lord’s command to love one’s enemies and do good to those who hate. Of course loving makes one vulnerable just like Jesus was. That might just be the point Jesus continues to try to make with those who wonder about discipleship.
Lord, increase our faith.

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