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Will Andrew Chan payback hurt more than heal?


I have witnessed Aboriginal payback. 

It was in the Kimberley on an open sports oval. A young girl from the community had been found killed and I watched the community's desire to re-balance itself with the serious and public punishment of the offender.

The whole community was present as the family of the deceased took it in turns to beat his back and stab his thigh. It was one of the most highly charged emotional events I have ever experienced.

At the end, after all the punishment, he fell. The nurses took him into the health clinic and he was later evacuated to hospital.

After the ritual was over I remember speaking to the father of the young girl. 'I want to kill him', he said.

'But even that will not remove your pain', I replied.

His hurt was raw and tangible and nothing seemed able, at that time, to even get close to healing it.

There are many times in our lives when we seek or experience 'payback'. The payment of fines and the decisions of our legal courts can express elements of our human need to seek and restore equilibrium to what has become unbalanced.

For Catholics, the sacrament of confession also seeks to restore balance where sin destroys it in ourselves and in our relationships with God and others.

Over recent weeks we have witnessed another form of payback: the planned execution in Indonesia of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumuran.

But unlike payback in Aboriginal communities, it is not about avoiding killing. It is the deliberate taking of life in payment for trafficking in drugs.

Payback is not necessarily bad. In its seeking to restore balance, and remove killing even where serious damage has been caused, it can work for good.

However, when hurt or upset, we can easily allow feelings of anger to overshadow our actions. Then we do not experience balance but further disruption. We can initiate further cycles of violence. We can struggle to overcome our desire for payback.

Our Christian journey to Easter began last week on Ash Wednesday. There we had ashes put on our foreheads, signs of our mortality and that we are all sinners called to conversion.

In that recognition lies an invitation. In this season of Lent we journey to remember the execution of Jesus who, on the cross, offered us another way that frees us from our need for payback.

Let us seek the grace of his compassion and forgiveness within and amongst ourselves and also for Andrew and Myuran.

Fr Brian McCoy SJ is the Provincial of the Australian Jesuit Province. This article was first published in Province Express.

Topic tags: Brian McCoy, Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumuran, Bali, death penalty



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Existing comments

As a Muslim believer in justice, mercy and redemption, I still hold out hope that Indonesia reconsiders. "Remember that the recompense of an injury is an injury the like thereof; but whoso forgives and thereby brings about an improvement, his reward is with Allah. Surely, He loves not the wrongdoers" (Quran 42:41) The Islamic principle is clear. Forgiveness which brings about reformation or improvement in the forgiven, is an act nearer to God than the exercising of one's right to punitive justice. Chan and Sukumaran have clearly and consistently displayed such a reformation. They are in fact shining examples of it. To ignore this fact in favour of a 'one size fits all' application of the death penalty, is to ignore the clear principle in this Quranic injunction. Not that I am at all suggesting Indonesia abandon its secular legal system, I am simply saying that Muslim Indonesians whose religious values underpin their opinions on such matters should reflect. The Bali terrorists in comparison, were defiantly unrepentant to the end. From my point of view, this Quranic provision for forgiveness on the basis of reformation could not (by itself) have been invoked to commute their execution.

Rashid.M | 25 February 2015  

Rashid, thank you. This is the kind of Quranic reflection that might, one hopes, move Jokowi's heart. Appreciated too in that it does not simply justify the call for the blood of the Bail bombers, although that is an argument for another day.

Raymond | 26 February 2015