“Love your enemies” does not equal “Burn their holy scriptures!”
Today’s Gospel reading is from Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Plain. It’s the section that begins, “To you who hear me, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you and pray for those who maltreat you.” (Lk 6:27-28)
The reading spoke loudly to me today because of Pastor Terry Jones’ announced plan to have a burning of the Qur’an ceremony on September 11, the anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center and attack on the Pentagon, a date that this year also coincides with the feastive end of the penitential season of Ramadan. The plans sparked protests from believers of all faiths, leaders of Christian and Jewish faith communities, and governments around the world. Reports are that the burning has been cancelled because plans to build a mosque near the “ground zero” site in New York have been cancelled.
Both the threat to burn the Qur’an and the opposition to the construction of a mosque, a place of prayer, near a site of unspeakable tragedy for people of all faiths speak to me of a huge lack of faith among us as Christians. How can we possibly reconcile “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” with the idea that all members of another faith are enemies because a few of their number carried out acts of terrorism? And even if all members of that faith were our enemies, we would not be justified in responding in kind if we are to be faithful to the new command given by our Lord.
The kind of spouting of hate filled rhetoric that we have seen in recent weeks is not consistent with the love of God. It comes from the Deceiver, who whispers coyly to us about how we have been wronged and how others can only be trusted to harm us and how all members of another community wish us harm or are evil. It all sounds so smooth and reasonable, especially when we see wars being waged and combatants couching their actions in religious language overlaid with centuries of injustice and misunderstandings.
The desired effect of the Deceiver’s whispering has already been attained, even without a single text being burned. People all over the world are stirred up. Protests are raging. Hatreds are reignited. It matters not a whit that leaders of the United States and of all major religious have condemned the plan. Extremism doesn’t deal in facts or the distinction between truth and falsehood, regardless of which extreme is in question. I can just imagine the delighted smiles on the faces of the evil spirits involved in this huge deception.
The example of St. Peter Claver, whose feast we celebrate today, speaks to us still today. Working in Cartagena, during the early 17th century, caring for the slaves who arrived from West Africa and serving as their advocate with their new owners, Peter Claver did not ask people about their religious beliefs before ministering to them. Once their illnesses had been treated, their wounds healed, their needs for nutrition and shelter addressed, he spoke to them of the love of Jesus and many became Christians because of the love he and his helpers extended to them.
The slave trade itself was “justified” by a series of Papal decisions based on the ongoing conflict between Christians and Moslems. Basically, the reasoning was that peoples living in areas of the known world where they might have had the chance to become Christians but did not do so could be enslaved as punishment/consequence for their failure to accept Christianity. Moslems were the original target of these rulings, but they were extended to include the peoples of the entire continent of Africa on the assumption that missionaries might have reached them. The peoples of the Americas eventually were specifically protected from enslavement for the same reason. Missionaries had not reached them before the voyages of Christopher Columbus and the Europeans who followed him.
Peter Claver and his helpers rightly reasoned that it didn’t matter in the least whether a slave was a Moslem or a beliver in a tribal religion or a believer in no religion at all. That individual was a human being, a brother or sister who deserved care and respect. Through that outpouring of love, care and respect, God reached out and touched thousands of people.
May we have the courage as people of faith to do the same.
St. Peter Claver, pray for us.