Less than a month ago, a video was released of four Marines, dressed in sand-colored camouflage, urinating on three dead members of the Taliban. One of the marines laughs and says, “Have a great day, buddy.” A second chimes in: "Golden, like a shower."
What these men did was dreadfully wrong, of course. And yet, one might well object: “Well, that’s easy for you to say. You don’t know what war is like.”
It’s true. I don’t know what war is like, not really. Not personally, not viscerally. I’ve lived a sheltered life, relatively speaking. But what I do know is this: it’s wrong, dreadfully wrong, to degrade and humiliate another human being.
How do I know this? Scripture.
Remember those women who wake up early in the morning, armed with oils and spices, to go to the tomb where they laid that broken-down, bleeding body, the body of Jesus? They taught me that bodies, living and dead, are to be treated with tenderness and respect.
Remember the woman who came to Jesus as he was eating dinner, the one who anointed him with very expensive perfume? She taught me that bodies, living and dead, are precious treasures.
Do you remember Rizpah? She lived in the time of David when a famine settled in on the land of Israel. The famine went on for years and drove David down to his knees before God.
David prayed: “Why?”
God said, “It’s because there is blood on Saul and on his house. It’s because Saul dealt so harshly with the Gibeonites.”
So, in order to end the famine and save his people, David called the Gibeonites together and asked them, “What can I do for you? How can I compensate you for all the broken bodies, so many covered in blood?”
The Gibeonites replied, “Give us seven of Saul’s sons and let us hang them up before God, on God’s holy mountain.”
David agreed. David handed over seven of Saul’s sons, including two of Rizpah’s boys. David handed them over to the Gibeonites, and they crucified them on God’s holy mountain.
But Rizpah, daughter of Aiah, took her sand-colored burlap and “spread it out for herself on a rock from the beginning of the harvest until the heavy rains started. And Rizpah kept the birds away from their bodies by day and the wild animals by night” (2 Samuel 21:10).
For five solid months - from barley harvest in spring to the early rains of October - Rizpah guards the bodies of her children. She protects them from the beasts and birds of prey. She keeps vigil over them until David is shamed into taking them down and giving them a proper burial.
I learned from Rizpah that every dead body is somebody’s son, somebody’s daughter. And that fierce love, that love not only of personality but of bodies, the love that extends even to the dead, even to a corpse - in a way, it’s the most eloquent, elemental love of all.
This love silently says “No” to all cruelty. It insists on dignity. It shames the contemptuous. It says, without saying a word, that despite what a world full of war seems to declare every day, human bodies do matter.
Think of Mary, her dead son on her lap. Think of that sorrow, yes - but think of that love.
Consider it a Valentine’s Day meditation, a glimpse of what “love” is really all about: a silent, eloquent, fierce insistence on the sheer value of a human being. A protest - from barley harvest in spring to the early rains of October - and a sacrament, a dream that one day, every body will be treated like a treasure.
Loving God, teach us how to love one another as you have loved us. Amen.
A big SALT thank you to Spanish photographer, Samuel Aranda, who won the 2011 World Press Photo of the Year for this image of a woman holding a wounded relative in her arms after a demonstration in Yemen. This photo was taken on October 15th in a mosque that had been transformed into a field hospital.