Adele Booysen via Compfight
Nicky Marshall is the husband of one wife (Raquel), father or two boys (Nathan and Elijah) and serves as assistant pastor at The Living Room Church in Barbados. Nicky is also an Artist and Surfer. He blogs here.
“This is Ferozah”. I instinctively stuck my hand out to greet a smiling Muslim woman beautifully dressed in her Hijaab. She instinctively drew her hands back and I had the awkward realization that this was not appropriate. Her husband graciously informed me that Muslim women “do not shake hands” (Google later informed me that Muslim women are only permitted to touch men who are their husband or family). Soon about fifteen of my fellow Christians and about the same number of Muslims were sitting in a circle(ish) discussing theological differences, misunderstandings, fears and concerns, as well areas of similarity and agreement.
We are all Barbadians, and yet my awkward introduction was a sign that we were crossing cultural boundaries into unfamiliar terrain.
Human beings have always been tribal.
We internalize our cultures boundary markers: what makes ‘us’ different from ‘them’.
Poor people. Rich people. Black people. White people. Christians. Muslims. Jews. Atheists. Bajans. Americans. Straight. Gay.
The danger is that we can dehumanize ‘those people’. They are somehow intrinsically different from ‘us’. Lazy. Arrogant. Stingy. Two-faced. Untrustworthy. Stupid. Closed-minded or whatever brush we paint the other with….that’s just how theyare.
And of course there is often enough of those who fit the stereotype to reinforce it.
In 1985 Rocky 4 came out. I was 12. Our hero was pitted against a 6-foot 5 inch, 261-pound Soviet boxer named Ivan Drago. This was America vs. Russia. This was the Cold War. After pounding the loveable African American Apollo Creed into the hospital, Drago remorselessly comments to the press ”if he dies, he dies”. Ohhh the evil! The cold, cheating, heartless machine. That Communist.That Russian!
As a youngster when I heard “Russian” I saw Ivan Drago.
In the same year Sting sang
“We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too”
It was a necessary correction for me as a young boy – Russians are people.
There was no shortage of this in first century Palestine as Jesus spread his message that the Rule of God had come – bringing healing to the nations with it.
Strict boundary markers separated Jew from Gentile. In Torah and blood, circumcision and Temple, Land and Divine Promise –we are God’s people, we are different. We are not like those people. And one Day our God will return to us. The exile to Babylon will be truly over. Our Pagan oppressors will be overthrown. The temple cleansed. Torah properly kept. God’s true people vindicated and set in their rightful place. God is on our side.
When Jesus returned to Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with him, “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.”
Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.”
But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel! And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour. (Matthew 8:5-13)
The Messiah. The symbol and on the ground reality of the coming of God’s great redemption of his people and judgment of the Pagan oppressor.
A Roman Centurion. The symbol and on the ground reality of brutal, violent, humiliating oppression by a Pagan empire.
And Jesus offers healing.
Because the Romans love their children too.
Jesus seems to be saying “This soldier is human like you, loves his family like you, is capable of the saving trust in God that characterized your Father Abraham. He is not the enemy. The sin enslaves both him and you is the real enemy. Any many like him will find themselves in the Kingdom while many of you who assume you are ‘in’ will find yourselves out!”
“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. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)
This is not just a timeless moral lesson for twenty first century Christians who get cut off in traffic.
This is war. This is political strategy. This is a Way of being the people of God in the face of all the other ways (mostly involving violent nationalistic revolution). The enemy is not Roman oppression – the enemy is oppression – and the seeds of oppression are in every human heart.
“Do not be over come by evil, but overcome evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:21)
Overcome evil by doing good. Not necessarily the evil in them. The evil in me, that turns them into anything other than fellow humans in need of salvation and mercy and kindness and understanding and friendship.
And this is risky.
Love is always risky.
People can take advantage of love.
Especially those people.
As followers of Jesus will we allow Jesus to become a set of boundary markers that cloister ‘us’ from ‘them’. Will we turn inward and wait for God to judge them and vindicate us? Will we stereotype and vilify the other? Or will we take the way of Christ and offer the healing hand of friendship and love and compassion.
Yes, even those people.