My companions and I deal with large supernatural threats so often that I don’t always appreciate the divergent views that we have of the mortal world. This distinction was spotlighted during our recent adventure involving a kidnapping ring. Elena and Jamie had no compunction about getting the information we needed from members of the motorcycle gang – the “Mayans” – involved in the kidnappings, and then outright executing them. Even normally happy-go-lucky Conor was similarly unconflicted in his approach, executing a higher-level ganger in similarly violent fashion.
(Side note: Conor’s fae “seeming” has changed recently – become more intense. I wonder if the increasing influence of his fae nature is somehow responsible for the change in his demeanor?)
The “Mayans” are terrible people – monsters, as Elena argues, just as worthy of removal as any supernatural threat because of the things they do. For me, though – regardless of what they have done – at the end of the day, they are still people, and acting as judge, jury, and executioner not only flies in the face of the laws that we’re brought up with, but also my own Christian beliefs. Isn’t every person worthy of repentance and forgiveness?
So, as we finally tracked down the “trainers” of the multi-city kidnappers, I took some time to seek guidance…
We pulled up to the Soft Tail motorcycle bar, Elena and Conor amiably chatting about the ambush we were setting up (and Conor giving me a hard time about even knowing about the place). I was still fairly shaken by Conor’s brutal handling of Cholo as we attempted to get to the root of the kidnappings.
They headed inside to grab drinks for us before we got set up out front to meet “Sergei” and “Mikhail” (the pseudo-military contractors who were teaching local gangs to perform high-stakes kidnappings). I told them I’d join them shortly, but that I needed a minute.
I found a somewhat secluded spot in the brush behind the bar, and knelt down to pray. I had no idea how to handle the situation – outright killing of people, no matter how bad they were, strained the very fiber of my being. Who was I to decide if someone should live or die? Who is to say that I wouldn’t be in their same situation but for the grace of God? Shouldn’t they be given a chance to repent and change their ways, rather than being summarily executed by a handful of – let’s be honest – vigilantes?
“Still working on the whole ‘Old Testament’ thing, huh?”
I jumped to my feet in surprise at the voice and spun around to find a grizzled biker straddling a motorcycle that I was fairly sure hadn’t been parked behind the bar a minute ago. Glancing over him, I found my answer in the patch on the sleeve of his leather jacket, which simply had his name – Jake.
I relaxed a bit, acknowledging my angelic sponsor. “I’m not sure if I’ll ever fully get it.”
“You’re working on it. I’ve seen you at work over the last few months, and you’re doing a lot better. You’re still not where I need you, but progress is progress.”
I nodded. “Dealing with supernatural threats is one thing – but how do I deal with the threats when they are mortal people?”
He got off the bike and walked over to me. “Why are you drawing a distinction?”
I was taken aback by the question. “Wh- Why!? They’re people! Man created in God’s own image! I’m not qualified to judge, I’m supposed to help guide them to Him!”
He shook his head. “You… are going to be a tougher nut to crack than I thought.” He looked at me pointedly. “I know you did the homework I assigned you.”
I quoted it easily – I’d looked at so often, it felt like it was seared into my mind. “Sure – Genesis 9:6 – Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”
He waited, slightly raising an eyebrow.
“I got that – I can exact retribution against the monsters who kill people.”
He waited, as if expecting me to continue, and then sat down in one of a pair of beat up wooden chairs that were suddenly there. “You’re either reading too much into it, or not enough, and I can’t quite figure out which.”
“I don’t see how-“
“What’s the first part of the verse?”
I stopped, letting out an exasperated breath. “Whoever sheds the blood man-“
He cut me off. “Exactly.”
“Don’t you think that God’s a little particular about his wording?”
I blinked and sat down heavily in the other chair. “Well, sure…”
He sat back and closed his eyes.
I replayed our conversation up to this point in the mind, in the context of the verse, and I thought I could see where he was going – and I really wasn’t comfortable with it. “Whoever…”
“Yes!” He sat up and looked at me. “Not whatever. Thanks to free will, people can be just as big of monsters as anything you face from the supernatural realm.”
“So you’re saying that … that God is… that he…” I stuttered to a halt, unable to voice that writ.
“Wants you to be a little more like Ms. Torres when it comes to killers – mortal or supernatural. Yep.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. "Is that what it means to be an Eye of Thoth? That I’m to be God’s hitman?"
Jake scowled a bit, but shrugged. “That’s oversimplified – and a little crass – but in this case, not inaccurate.”
I looked up and met his gaze. “No.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “No?”
I held my tone even, trying not to sound like a petulant child. “I don’t accept that. Seriously? A hitman? Up until this moment, the Eye of Thoth has been about standing up to supernatural-“
He held up his hand, taking the metaphorical wind out of my sails as well as my actual breath with that simple motion. “No, no it hasn’t. Think back about that statement, and what I’ve actually told you.”
I sucked in air as I sat back, my mind running back over our conversation in the Louisiana swamp. Finally, I remembered the word he used. “Evils.”
He nodded. “Numbers 35:19.”
“I don’t have the whole Bib-“ I cut off as my well-worn Bible appeared in my hand. I flipped to appropriate passage.
I read the verse, read it again, and then followed a couple of the concordance cross-references in Leviticus and Joshua, just to make sure. I looked at Jake. “The avenger of blood? That’s a… primitive tradition.”
He snorted. “English is sometimes so pitifully inadequate.” He then grinned as he spoke, “The Go’el was not as clumsy or random as a hitman; an elegant weapon, for a less civilized age.”
Despite what we were discussing, the Star Wars riff lightened my mood a bit. I vaguely recognized the term as Hebrew – a subject that I hadn’t spent a lot of time on (or done well in) in seminary, despite being foundational for a thorough understanding of the Bible. Many of the traditional seminary courses had been glossed over in favor of my supernatural studies. Although I suppose I could do worse than to have an archangel for a tutor…
“What you call the Avenger of Blood, is only one aspect of the duties of the Go’el. Let’s review.”
He held up his thumb.
“To redeem… call it rescue… a kinsman sold or brought into slavery or bondage.”
He held up his index finger, it looked a bit like a pistol handsign.
“To do whatever was necessary, including standing in place of his lost relative, to ensure the protection and care of the kinsman’s family and children.”
Now he was holding up three fingers.
“To pursue the wrongdoer, both literally and figuratively.”
Four of his fingers were now aloft.
“If the wrongdoer fled to a City of Refuge, to plead the case of his kinsman before the council to ensure that justice is done and the rights of his kinsman were defended.”
Jake now had his entire hand wide open, his arm raised held at a right angle.
“To find witnesses and evidence if necessary to ensure that the wrongdoer was delivered into his hands and restitution done – either restoring stolen property or money.”
He then closed all five fingers into a fist.
“If murder… murder… was committed; to avenge his kinsman… there is no restitution for that crime.”
Jake sighed, lowering his arm. “In the old days, if there was none of blood who could carry this out, it was permitted for another to act as Go’el… after all, it doesn’t just mean “avenger,” Matthew, it also happens to mean Redeemer. Spiritually, the Messiah is Go’el for all of Israel… you mortals have some debate still as to who the Messiah is, and I’m not allowed to really talk about that, but it doesn’t change the fact that Go’el is one of His titles.”
“But back to mortals. A kinsman with a good mule or camel, and a sword can hunt down the guilty across the wild hinterlands of Canaan or even chase him to the very gates of Hebron… but how does a mortal pursue the wrongdoer across the Nevernever or across the globe itself? How will the typical mortal seek justice against the Fae of the Forests, or one of The Adversary’s Legion, or giants? Wouldn’t it be great if there was someone who could act as Go’el in situations like this?”
I just nodded, trying to take in the connections and revelations, and tried to ignore what he was saying about Jesus. I was familiar with the concept of the kinsman-redeemer – the book of Ruth largely revolves around it. However, the connection to the avenger of blood and even the aspect of Jesus as such was newer for me – again, nuances I’d missed in seminary given my focus.
“Some of you humans have gotten too wrapped up in the Gospel of Forgiveness to remember that ours is a God of Justice as well. That doesn’t change with the coming of the Messiah.”
I noted how he referred to the Messiah in vague terms, and tried to alter my language to match. “But it changes the target of that vengeance! The Messiah redeems all of our sins.”
“For those who believe,” he stated emphatically.
I was incredulous. “So streets of Dallas shall run red with the blood of the unbelievers?”
“So melodramatic; if your unbeliever is also blood guilty – then conditionally – yes.”
I opened my mouth to retort again, but shut it in favor of giving myself time to process, and got an approving nod from Jake. The avenger of bl – no, Go’el – was much more than I first thought, not just a “hitman.” While killing was within the scope of his responsibility, it only came into play in a specific circumstance – the retribution of murder. Not just any crime, any offense – just murder.
“Matthew, I’m sure you’ve figured out that I’m not Michael – leading the armies of God with fanfare and a fiery sword. I work more… circumspectly. The coming of the Messiah doesn’t negate the need to redress sins in a direct fashion – it lessens it, certainly – and regardless, the modern supernatural world requires that, when needed, such redress be accomplished with a certain level of subtlety – and expediency.”
“What about subjecting ourselves to the mortal authorities that God has placed over us?”
He cocked his head, one eyebrow raised. “You’re going there? How many of the people you dealt with today would have been appropriately handled by your legal system?”
“You sound like Elena.”
"You’re avoiding my question, and she’s got a point. You did good rescuing the kidnapped kids. But could you have given your Texas Ranger friend what he needed to get the Mayans dealt with in court?"
“I don’t kn-”
“Yes, you do. He and Ms. Torres both told you, and that’s why the lawman broke contact and let her and Mr. Harper do their thing.”
“Ranger Lorance, I suppose I believed… but Elena can be awfully vengeful when it comes to stuff like that, like the legal system doesn’t matter to her.”
“Doesn’t make her wrong. On either count. And I know you trust her more than the Ranger.”
I mulled that over for a while. He was right – I did trust Elena, and I was aware of some of the experiences that had paved the road to where she was today. I hadn’t fully considered what it meant that Cody was the one to break contact, not Elena. And deep down I knew that she was right – the legal system wouldn’t have had anything to go on, and those bikers would have gone free to kill again.
I shook my head tiredly. “My calling has never been easy, but preaching in gangland is a heck of a lot more straightforward.”
“God doesn’t promise easy – but He also doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”
I sighed. “And I was just getting comfortable with supernatural violence.”
He patted me on the shoulder. “If it makes you feel any better, we don’t ever want it come easily for you.” He sat back down, and I straightened up a bit to look at him. “But you need to know – to accept – that it’s necessary; to accept that your calling in this world is restitution. That also means sometimes that; if it’s called for, restitution and retribution are one and the same. If you know that someone has spilled blood, you spill it right back.”
I met his gaze evenly. “I won’t kill. People. I’m not sure that I can.”
He shrugged. “Then you’ve surrounded yourself with the right friends. Look – you didn’t kill Brandon, right?”
I thought back, realization dawning on me. “No… I didn’t.”
“But you still made sure that his victims got both restitution as well as retribution, right?”
“Mission accomplished, then. And even better?”
I looked at him quizzically.
He winked conspiratorially, put his hand beside his mouth, and whispered. " You saved his soul."
A smile crossed my face as I realized that as long as I saw it through, the specific means were irrelevant. Moreover, I could still fulfill my Christian mandate. “So the Mayans… Cholo…?”
Jake snorted. “You have NO idea how long that bunch has had it coming. I and some of the others were really rooting for you guys to follow Conor’s lead to their ranch and kick down the door, give ‘em ALL what for.” He paused, and mumbled. “Course, that wouldn’t have ended…”
“A battle for another day…” He motioned with his head towards the bar. “You better get in there, so you don’t leave your friends hanging.”
“Oh-ho!” He exclaimed, grinning. “I missed you doing that bit of research!”
I shrugged, smiling. I didn’t know you could surprise an archangel.
“You get it?”
“Yeah… I’ll get there.”
He rolled his eyes, and glared expectantly at me.
I nodded. “I won’t let my friends down.”
“That’ll do. Keep studying, kid.” He snapped his fingers, and the world whirled.
I lifted up my head, looking around – I was still kneeling on the ground, praying. I had the feeling that, once again, mere seconds had passed during our conversation, but I stayed put a minute or two longer, finishing the prayer I’d started in a decidedly different tone.
I stood up, brushing off my slacks, and made my way back around to the porch of the bar, where Conor and Elena were waiting, beers in hand to enhance the disguise Conor would use on us. The men we were about to meet had the blood of children on their hands. And I was now a little more ok with the idea of getting theirs on mine.
“Ye all right, Matthew?” Conor handed me a beer.
I nodded, conviction in my voice for the first time since the killing had started last night. “I’m good. Let’s do this.”
Once again, heady revelations about my chosen path – that retribution against evil men, and murderers certainly, is part of my divine mandate as well. Go’el. I need to spend some time with my old seminary texts, and catch up on some of my foundations. I might even talk to Arthur about auditing some of those classes again.
Of course, it turned out that my quandary was largely irrelevant on that point. The two “contractors” were actually ice giants of Norse mythology in disguise – creatures I had less issues with smiting. And we smote them – not easily, by any stretch of the imagination, and I’ll have the scar to prove it once the gash crossing my torso heals and the stitches come out. (Barbara wasn’t happy when she saw that, but Santiago did his usual great work in patching me up.)
That night, I said a prayer for the misguided souls of the “Mayans” that had died – but, strangely, I no longer felt guilty about standing aside while my friends killed them.
Who’d have thought?