Over the past few days, many have rightly observed that the terrorist attack at the Parisian concert hall Le Bataclan targeted not just the population of France, but French culture as well. Even so, this jihadist display of force failed to draw the curtain on another extraordinary show that stole the spotlight that fateful night. At center stage in this show of courage and compassion were men and women who risked their lives to save others.
Yes, in the very aisles of this theater of terror, in the midst of this macabre performance that shook not just the nation but the entire world, our attention was drawn to a handful of actors clearly being directed by another script—a script whose subtext calls to mind the climactic moment of the gospel. Even as the deafening drumbeat of automatic weapons drowned out the death-metal music that had drawn the capacity crowd, magnificent echoes of the Good News of Jesus Christ rang out from unexpected corners of the hall.
Run or Rescue?
One example includes a protagonist whose evident humility in recounting his story left many of us speechless. This breathtaking scene, which has been played and replayed all over the world, was filmed by a journalist from the French newspaper Le Monde. A pregnant woman trying to flee the concert hall hangs from a railing high above the ground, her strength fading with each passing minute. In a calm yet pleading voice, she asks others who are fleeing beneath her to come to her aid. No one stops. The growl of gunfire nips at their heels, and the panic is palpable.
But then, a young man named Sebastien, himself hanging from a ventilation shaft within arm’s reach of a window, decides to re-enter the building and give the desperate woman a helping hand. Just when she feels that she can hang on no longer, Sebastien, leaning out of the window above her, takes hold of her arms and pulls her to safety.
Cost of Courage
But Sebastien’s act of bravery comes at a cost. Moments later, he is taken hostage by the terrorists. In what seems to be nothing short of a miracle, he will survive the nightmare and emerge with his life from this improbable sequence of tragic events. And thanks to Twitter, the pregnant woman will later meet her savior in person.
This rescue provides us with a powerful illustration of the gospel. Sebastien gave up his own security to save the life of a woman in distress. Likewise, Jesus Christ not only risked his life to save the lives of others, he even voluntarily offered his life for their salvation.
But Sebastien’s heroic act is even more than a potent reminder of Christ’s sacrifice. It is also a provocative illustration of Christ’s call—a call he addresses to all of his disciples. Christ calls us to put our own interests aside, daily, and to respond to the needs of those around us. Few if any of our acts of self-sacrifice will carry the same heroic import as that of Sebastien and others like him in life-or-death situations. Nevertheless, these often-unrecognized gestures will serve to confirm our association with Christ, the ultimate example of sacrificial giving.
Meditation and Memories in the Aftermath
As we remember the shocking events of November 13, 2015, in the days and weeks to come, we must not let sad memories monopolize our meditation. Let us not forget that the unspeakable brutality witnessed all over the world gave way to unforgettable acts of heroism and self-sacrifice. Let these also serve as an object of our meditation, reminding us of that ultimate act of heroism, the sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross for the sins of mankind. Even more, let these memories inspire and move us toward the kind of courageous, sacrificial life that every disciple of Christ is called to live, to the glory of God our Savior.
What would I have done if I had been in Sebastien’s shoes?