The attacks in Paris have been at the forefront of everyone’s mind for almost a week now. People are tweeting, Facebooking, Instagramming their prayers, thoughts and condolences to all those effected by the tragedy. We here at Christian Thought Sandbox feel for those that were effected by the Paris attacks, and send prayers of peace and hope their way. But that is not the only kind of sentiment that is making it around the globe. While some are feeling a deep sadness and desire to help those in pain, there are other feelings being expressed.
To a certain degree, I do understand where these other emotions are coming from. We don’t understand why these kinds of things keep on happening. Why can’t we simply live in a kind of harmony? Why can’t we live and let live? Why do people feel that they have to use violent, extreme measures to share and convince others to a particular faith or mindset?
I understand that questioning, painful and hurt emotion. I do not fully understand why anyone would think these tactics would work. Nor do I understand why we as a people cannot live a quiet life without violence.
Still others turn to their anger and hatred. Sometimes these feelings are very subtle. A co-worker was talking to me about the Paris tragedy, and as he walked away, I heard him mutter, “Stupid Muslims.” Other people are much more direct in their feelings. Chances are you have seen the internet posts telling muslims to go back to their own countries, to leave our kids alone, and other such things. Some get much more vulgar and violent, wishing death upon all who would have any connection to anything radical. Even a slim connection like having a darker skin tone.
I understand the anger they feel. Please note, I do not condone it, nor do I participate in that kind of attitude. I understand the desire to remove what is causing pain in this world, but I believe that this is wrong. This engagement in anger and hatred, subtle or obvious, is not the attitude or action becoming of a follower of Christ. I believe that, because that is not the kind of attitude or action that Jesus taught or displayed.
“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.””- Luke 10.25-37 NIV
Jesus was often asked how to live. Recorded at different times in the Gospels, people asked Jesus what to do in the case of death, marriage, eternal life, taxes, and resurrection—to name a few. In this particular passage, an expert in the law asked Jesus who was the neighbour he was to love, as the Old Testament Law commanded. Jesus shares this parable, a story with no clear message, but the uncanny ability to prick the heart of the listener. This was not the answer that the expert of the law was wanting. We know the story of the Good Samaritan, whether we are followers of Christ or not. We know that the Samaritan was the hero of the story, he was the one that did what was right. He loved his neighbour. But sometimes we miss the animosity that the expert of the law had for the hero of Jesus’ parable.
“The expert in the law replied [to which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers], “The one who had mercy on him.””
He can’t even say “The Samaritan.” He can’t put the words together. The thought is repulsive. That a Samaritan would act in such a way that I should honour and replicate, even in a parable, is horrid. There is a very distinct hatred and anger for the Samaritan people coming from the expert in the law.
Sadly, this was a common emotion in the days of Jesus. In the Gospel of John, there is an account of Jesus talking with a woman at a well. While this was a strange thing to be sure, what made it more strange was that this woman was a Samaritan. When the disciples returned to Jesus, after having left to find food, they thought, but did not ask aloud, “Why are you talking with her?” (John 4.27) Jews did not associate with Samaritans. Samaritans did not associate with Jews, the Bible records this.
“The Samaritan woman said to [Jesus], ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” – John 4.9
For Jesus to tell a parable with a Samaritan as the hero to a Jewish audience was a bold move to say the least. What Jesus was poking and prodding at was the same mentality that this current generation has. We want to know how to live like Jesus. We want to know how to get to heaven. We want to know how to live a morally acceptable life. We want to know what the right answers are to the big questions of life. These are not bad things in themselves. In fact, I believe these are good things. But our problem is that we do not like the answers that Jesus is giving us.
Jesus says that we are to love our neighbours, and we like that answer. That is a nice idea. If I loved my neighbour and my neighbour loved me, then there would be a nice peaceful atmosphere around our houses. The block would be sound and safe for our children. It would be a nice picture of classic America, where I would talk to the neighbour over the fence. There would be no animosity when he wanted to borrow my hedge trimmer. It would just be a perfectly harmonious place.
That is a beautiful idea. But Jesus isn’t satisfied with an idea. He wants us to put flesh onto it. He wants us to live out that idea. The expert in the law loved the idea of loving his neighbour, but when Jesus demanded that he put it into practice, that was when things got difficult. Things got difficult because the neighbour that Jesus commands us to love is not the nice, super friendly, hedge trimmer borrowing kind. He calls us to love the enemy. He calls us to love those with ideas and lifestyles that are different than our own. He calls us to love those that look different. He call us to love those that may not worship the same way that we do, or worship the same God that we do.
To push the envelope all the way open, God wants us to love those people that acted in violence in Paris. God wants us to love terrorists.
As soon as I put the period on that sentence, I know I am sharing something radical. And I can only imagine how many people will never read anything I write ever again because of what I just said. Thoughts like: How can you possibly tell me to love people that bombed innocent people? How can you tell us to love a bunch of crazy murderers? How could Jesus ask us to love radicals like these Muslims that want to kill all things Western? I understand that this sounds crazy, but this is what Jesus calls those that follow Him to do. This is how we are supposed to act. This is what we are supposed to teach.
Jesus said love your neighbour. That would include the neighbours that you do not like. That would include the neighbours that you don’t get along with. That would include the neighbours that believe in something else, like Muslims, and these radical, violent extremists. To do this, to love our neighbours, Jesus said is what it takes to inherit eternal life. In another passage, Jesus is asked what the most important commandment is. His response is the same as the expert of the law:
“Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it; ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22.37-40
The loving of your neighbour is central to the Christian faith, central to the Christian way of life, according to Jesus. Regardless of who your neighbour is, regardless of what they believe or how they treat you, Jesus says that everything the Bible is about breaks down to these two things. And one of those is loving your neighbour, even if that means loving extremists that threaten and do set off bombs in Paris that kill 160 people.
I am not saying that to love these people is to approve or condone what they do. I don’t. Jesus wouldn’t have either. There is nothing loving about ending someone’s life. But Jesus calls all that believe in Him to love them just the same.
For those Christians that would disagree with me, and advocate that we strike out and destroy these terrorists and do everything in our power to annihilate the guilty parties, look to the teachings of Jesus for your attitude and actions:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you; Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5.38-45
Love your enemies. That would include ISIS. That would include the terrorists that attacked Paris. That would include all Muslims; especially if you think that all Muslims are terrorists. (That is ignorant thinking, and not the case. On the day of the attack, over 1.5 million Muslims condemned the attack on Paris. They did not approve of what happened.)
This is a radical response to a radical group of people. This is a crazy response to people that you may see as crazy. This is an insane call to action against insane forces of evil. But this is the response of Jesus. This is the call to action by Jesus. He says that we, Christians, are to love those that would be called enemies. This is easy to say, easy to write, from the comfort of my home in Canada. I am not in any real danger from the threats of ISIS. I am not personally feeling the devastating effects of what happened in Paris.
To love my neighbour would be a very difficult action to take for those that are at ground zero. To love those that have hurt you, those that have persecuted you would not be easy at all. And do not misunderstand me, or misunderstand Jesus, this will not be easy. To love anyone is an expensive endeavour. To love my wife costs me—my time, my energy, my money, my mind—loving her costs me something. But I am glad to give it all to her. Jesus calls us to love our neighbours and we should be aware that it is going to cost us. And for the Christians, we should be aware and be ready to pay that price. We should be ready to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Saviour.
“But God demonstrated his own love for us in this; While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
“For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” – Romans 5.8,10
We were once called sinners, the enemy of God. But God loved us regardless of the fact that we were on opposite sides. He paid a price—a terrible price—that we may know His awesome and powerful love, through the death of Jesus Christ. This is our Gospel. This is the Good News that we claim to hold to and believe in. Christians, I urge you, in light of what is going on in the world, consider this:
While anger and displays of hatred may be the way of the world, this is not how we are called to act by Jesus. This engagement in anger and hatred, subtle or obvious, is not the attitude or action becoming of a follower of Christ. Rather we should show love for our neighbour, though it will be difficult and costly, just as Christ showed love to us, who were once His enemy.
There will be other terrorist attacks, I’m sure. Maybe not in Paris, but they will happen. They may be closer to home for me. They may be closer to home for you. But should these terrible things happen, remember what Christ has called us to:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13.34-35
Art by Jean Jullien