Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Quality of Mercy (an opinion)

Today this blog will not be a podium for the epistemology of comic books and films; regular diversions will resume tomorrow

This last week has been a difficult time for Muslims, first with the USA barring many Muslims from its shores, particularly to target refugees but even restricting those who held green cards in that nation (although after a few days that was changed and the process remains marred in a flux of uncertainty). Then on Sunday a madman entered a mosque in Quebec City and murdered six Muslims. Amidst all the Muslim-on-Muslim violence in the Middle East we in North America are not helping when we discriminate against them, whether that bigotry emerges from the pen of a fascist or the gun barrel of a maniac. As a Christian, I am hurt by the unnecessary cruelties being inflicted and feel compassion for those who are being affected.

Yet many of my fellow Christians are in disagreement with me. They feel some compassion for the plight of refugees and the red tape of the government but they seem to be in favour of what is going on in the USA, even if they, like me, are not Americans. I am not referring to internet trolls but to online friends, friends-of-friends and leaders in the church who are against the admission of refugees from Muslim nations. What became of the Golden Rule, Jesus' teaching to "do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12)? If faith-based discrimination is what we would do to others, are we therefore encouraging it to be inflicted back upon ourselves? They have responses prepared.

Frequently, Christians who are anti-Muslim will draw upon the Old Testament to support their belief. These Christians who note the Mulism-on-Christian violence in the Middle East or the 9/11 terrorist attack make much from: "But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." (Exodus 21:23-25) This is in willful disobedience of Jesus' teaching: “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 anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (Matthew 5:38-42)

Amongst the many Christian denominations we all admire the Lord's Prayer as the prayer which Jesus passed on to us (Matthew 6:9-13) - to all who pray. But are we being hypocrites in that prayer when we say "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us?" If we do not demonstrate grace and forgiveness to our fellow humans, why do we believe God is graceful and merciful to us? "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." (Luke 6:37)

Wiser retorts from my Christian brothers and sisters come from the New Testament; a popular excuse I hear from Christians who do not want to help or to trust someone is: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16) But how did "shrewd" become interpreted as "hard of heart?" Paul was shrewd when he was taken prisoner in Jerusalem and first drew upon his status as a Pharisee, then as a Roman citizen to avoid summary judgment against himself. But he still went to Jerusalem and allowed himself to be placed in jeopardy. Paul was exposed to danger but, as my missionary relatives believe, "the safest place in the world is at the center of God's will."

Some say our focus should not be on the Muslims in jeopardy in the Middle East but solely on the Christians there. To which, Jesus had this to say: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" (Matthew 5:43-47)

The lesson of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) was not that the Jewish men who ignored the suffering of the man alongside the road should have helped him because he was a fellow Jew (but they certainly should have) but rather that the Samaritan, in helping the Jew, was being a good neighbour and we ought to "go and do likewise." Terrible things have been done in the name of Islam; terrible things have been done in the name of the church. The Jews were seemingly forever disobedient to God, yet he continued restlessly to win them back; Jesus went to the homes of Romans to heal their sick despite them being enemies of his people; Paul was warned repeatedly that he would be arrested in Jerusalem, yet he still obeyed God's will. Are we so afraid of Muslims that we would refuse God's prompting to help them? What blessing can we expect if we are disobedient to our God?

Yesterday I joined with believers of many faiths in a brief gathering in memoriam of those killed in Quebec City. The imam who led the prayers thanked us for "showing solidarity - not with Muslims, but with Canadians." He prayed with us not only from his Muslim tradition but also drew from St. Augustine: "You have enemies. For who can live on this earth without them? Take heed to yourselves: love them. In no way can your enemy so hurt you by his violence, as you hurt yourself if you love him not." Afterward there were Christian prayers and Jewish prayers and one student who offered a secular prayer via William Shakespeare:

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;

All too often we Christians respond to God's calling in the manner of Jonah, answering with a "yeah, but..." when we should offer a "yeah, and..." We are called to go the extra mile, to do more than what other expect from us. God has granted us a great opportunity to demonstrate his love for us by loving our Muslim cousins. Agree or disagree with me, but please pray into these situations. Thank you, and may God's peace go with you.

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