Fifty people died in shooting attacks last Friday at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Another fifty were wounded. Our world seems to be dying in a sea of violence and hatred. What did Jesus really say about the kind of systemic hatred and violence that seems to be engulfing our world?
Hatred on an Island
New Zealand is an Island off the coast of Australia. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office received an email with the manifesto from the suspect behind the mass shootings two minutes before the attack began.
Authorities have declined to discuss potential motives for the attack, but the 87-page document, also posted on social media just before the shooting began, was filled with anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim creeds.
Jesus and Violence
Jesus was no stranger to hateful violence. He was no stranger to violent and hate-filled killing. He lived in an advanced agrarian society under oppressive rule. The Romans ruled the land with an iron fist. PAX ROMANA, Roman Peace was established and enforced through fear. Keep the peace or die was the Roman way.
When Jesus was about twelve years old there was a small rebellion near his hometown. The City of Sepphoris was captured by Jewish rebels and the armory looted for weapons.
The Romans sent troops from Syria and squashed the rebels as you might step on a cockroach. Thousands of Galilean Jews were crucified to send a signal to the countryside. There wouldn’t be another rebellion for more than fifty years.
Jesus experienced this. It’s likely that he even knew someone who died in the rebellion. Some speculate that his father may have been killed in it. In any case, Jesus knew about violence.
Four Christian Reflections
Jesus taught that there was a better way. Fighting violence with more violence was not the Jesus way. Here are four things Jesus taught that are cause for reflection on our response to violence and hatred.
1. Love your neighbor
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).
Jesus said that love for the neighbor was the cornerstone of God’s Law. And when asked to define neighbor he told the story of The Good Samaritan which basically taught that your neighbor is anyone who comes across your path, even if you don’t like them much.
2. Love your enemy
But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).
Jesus told his disciples to deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow him (Matt. 16:24). His call for us to love our enemies is the most unique teaching in the Jesus curriculum. It’s a call to deny our own desires, inclinations, preferences – to sacrifice everything – even our own safety – for the sake of following Jesus.
Jesus wants to remake the world and he will do it through his radical love.
3. Love each other
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
Jesus said that the world would know that we were his disciples by the way we love each other. The radical love ethic of Jesus Christ is the singular clarion call that sets us apart from the rest of the world.
4. Love the stranger
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in …” (Matt. 25:35).
The word for “stranger” is xenos and it means “alien, foreigner, one who has no share.” Jesus was describing the immigrant – the one who has no share in the place where you live – the foreigner. And when we care for the foreigner, we care for Jesus. When we don’t care for the foreigner, we don’t care for Jesus. It really is that simple.
Jesus was pretty strong in his condemnation of those who refuse to love the stranger. To them he says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).
These are important Christian reflections as we pray for the survivors of this terrible tragedy and as we pray for New Zealand and our world.