Riding the Q train into Brooklyn one Friday night, Hassan Askari, a Muslim, noticed ten thugs hassling a young couple for replying ‘Happy Chanukah’ when greeted with ‘Merry Christmas’. Fearing for the woman’s safety, he pushed one thug away, and the gang pounced on the 5’ 7”, 140 lb. Good Samaritan. This gave the two victims time to pull the subway’s emergency brake and summon help. Askari received two black eyes and a bloodied nose for his efforts, but never went to a doctor because he worked two jobs and couldn’t afford medical care. Victim Walter Adler (who received a broken nose and required four stitches for a split lip) was shocked that “a random Muslim kid helped some Jewish kids, (and) that’s what’s positive about New York”.
Today’s Scripture readings call for a change in culture—the culture here in our community, our nation, and our world. They decry violence as a solution to disagreement. They reject condemnation as a response to diversity. They challenge Christians to counter what is becoming an increasingly confrontational society that divides, not unites us. And this IS the devil’s work!!
Will you help me with an experiment? For each term I mention, notice the thoughts or feelings that word elicits in you:
- Mask Vaccination Six feet Coronavirus
- Liberal Conservative Patriot Personal Freedom
Did you find that you have strong thoughts and feelings leaning in a particular direction or “side”? We face today strident voices attempting to divide us, to pit us one group versus another, and to what end? To what purpose except to keep us angry, frustrated, and afraid.
Last Wednesday I drove by the Latah Fair Grounds. Walking alongside Mountain View Road was a group of about 15 men, many dressed in hunting or military gear. They carried a large American flag and a second with the motto Don’t Tread on Me. Without recognizing a single face, I immediately labeled them and assumed their purpose…without speaking with them or observing more. I’d already determined it was not a group I wanted to be around. That…without even knowing why they were there…this attitude in a nation that prides itself on freedom of speech! I simply assumed that we were miles apart in our political and social values and dismissed their actions as unwarranted. Looking back, I was wrong to judge their motives and actions without learning more.
Yet, from its inception, the Church, and today our Holy Father, Pope Francis, assert that we are not so different as human beings. Each of us is made in the image and likeness of God—Imago Dei, in Latin. We are members of one body—the Body of Christ, whether we know it or not. Gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, nationality, physical condition, wealth…none of these factors, often used to isolate people into groups, none, in fact, separate us from God. And they should NEVER be the basis for exploiting others or dismissing them as simply wrong! By example, Pope Francis has made this very point. On Holy Thursdays, he washes the feet of Christian and non-Christian men and women, incarcerated and free. He lives simply, in community and not apart in the papal palace. His message is that we are brothers and sisters in Christ, obligated to engage with one another, listen to one another, respect one another, and share with one another…especially with the poorest, weakest, and least influential members of society.
When I think of the sources of discord in our world, our nation, and our church, I am convinced that the path to healing, peace, and unity lies in not judging the motives and the correctness of others…at least not until we have had the opportunity to dialogue. Jesus did not strike out at his critics, did not drive them away, did not ridicule them, did not urge his followers to storm the temple gates. He did speak out when he encountered injustice, abuse of authority, and hypocrisy, but he left the door open for all to come to him. His plan for the Kingdom of God on earth is this: That we…
- Be peacemakers – all of us children of God;
- Be humble, poor in spirit;
- Be patient, endure hardship, and know that heaven begins here on earth for those who love God and others;
- Respond with love when attacked, and return good for evil.
- Bless those who curse us, and pray for those who mistreat us;
- Respectfully disagree with those whose opinions conflict with what we believe to be true, but do not denigrate the other.
In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is trying to instruct his disciples about his approaching suffering and death at the hands of his detractors, but they do not comprehend. They’re more interested in vying for seats of honor in the new regime. With a child as his example, Jesus tells them that to follow His path, they need to be poor in spirit, humble, powerless just like a child in the society of their day…and they don’t get it. At least, not until inspired by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
We today have the Holy Spirit, Wisdom, to enlighten us about God’s plan for humanity. We know we are called to love God above all else, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are to pray for those who harm us, as well as for those with whom we disagree. The question is, are we ready to act on what Jesus is telling us today?