I am a product of multiculturalism and grace. The grandson of an Imam, the son of a Muslim and the cousin, nephew, uncle, and friend to many other Muslims. I am also the grandson of an Irish Catholic and a Protestant and my Mum was active in the Methodist Church. As a kid, I would go to the mosque, and I’d also go to Sunday School at the local Baptist church.
Suffice it to say I grew up amidst cultural diversity and in an interfaith household. This was my reality. A loving and peaceful reality. It’s possible I was more naive growing up in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s but it seems that our social and political willingness to navigate (let alone embrace) cultural diversity is at an all-time low.
As the manager of a new national initiative for Welcome to Australia and also a Christian pastor in the midst of planting a faith community, I am dismayed by the voices of fear and division.
People are angry. Muslims are angry. Christians are angry. Secularists are angry. Lines are being drawn. Sides are being taken. Hate, fear, aggression, and protests abound.
Muslims are angry because they feel targeted and misrepresented as a homogenised mass. Christians are angry because they're fearful in a climate of divisive politics and frenzied media. Secularists are angry because they just want to be left alone to get on with their life.
You don’t have to look very far to find an angry mob. And you don’t have to look too far to find a church in the middle of these angry mobs. How should the church and Christians respond?
As Christians, surely our default should be to look to Jesus? And when it comes to Jesus and angry mobs we don’t have to look very hard for an example.
In Matthew 26, Luke 22 and John 18 we read the account of Jesus in Gethsemane. This is his darkest hour. Jesus knows that the Pharisees and teachers of the law are out to get him. He knows that he is about to face betrayal, violence and death. The "visible image of the invisible God” is "overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" because his creation has turned against him and wants him dead.
In his darkest hour, Jesus finds himself caught in the midst of two angry mobs. One mob is ‘for' him, the ‘other' against him. How does Jesus respond and how should that inform our response?
Before the mob arrives with blazing torches, swords and clubs, Jesus was praying. His request of his disciples was to pray too. Their attempt at following this request was weak at best. They fell asleep. We are called to be alert and earnest in prayer rather than comfortably dozing in our faith.
Dallas Willard said that “prayer is talking with God about what we’re doing together.” If that’s the case and if we’re joining God in what he’s already doing, if we’re co-labouring with Christ, then prayer should be a constant conversation. Prayer should be our first and last port of call, and our dialogue while in transit.
We need to be careful that what we think is the right response is worked out in conversation with God. We often rush ahead on the assumption we know how God would respond without waiting for the answer. That’s a mistake. Peter started swinging a sword without getting an answer from Jesus and it cost a guy (Malchus) his ear.
Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss; the crowd came for him with weapons in hand, Peter retaliated and Jesus questioned all their motives and methods.
There is a danger that we take sides too quickly...
You're either for me or against me.
This side or that side.
Black or white.
Arrest Jesus or fight to the death for him.
But Jesus says, “Stop!” He doesn't agree with either side. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
Amidst the chaos, angry mobs, betrayal and retaliation, what does Jesus do? He questions the motives and methods of both sides and he reaches out his hand and heals a bleeding mess. He reaches out his hand and restores Malchus’ ear.
Can you imagine? Imagine Malchus’ response. He’d come to arrest Jesus, in the ensuing encounter his ear is cut off and the man he is arresting doesn't just heal his ear, he gives him a brand new one. "Jesus didn't condemn me. He didn’t urge his followers to seek retribution. He didn't proselytise and Tweet or Facebook the message of truth. He healed me!
"Jesus’ disciple cuts my ear off, but Jesus heals me." In the midst of angry mobs, Jesus brought healing. Out of a bleeding mess, he brings life and wholeness.
Are we more like the follower or the leader? Are we more like Peter or Jesus?
I love the work that I do with Welcome to Australia, but I am often bemused by how many people we continue to upset. I’ve come to realise that the reason we upset so many people is because we remain relentlessly positive and loving and we walk a narrow path down the middle of the so-called ‘left’ and ‘right’. The ‘left’ and ‘right’ are at odds; they’re enemies. Jesus commands us to love our enemies, but people don’t like it when you love their enemies as much as you love them because this is seen as an act of betrayal.
As followers of Jesus, people should only treat us as enemies because they find our love and service, offensive. They should only be offended by our unwillingness to treat anyone as enemies.
We are wasting our time and our energy fighting philosophical and ideological battles. Jesus is all about relationship because relationship is everything. This is the heart of peacemaking, the heart of Shalom. Peace with God, peace with self, peace with others and peace with creation.
Jesus saw beyond the mob, beyond the ideology, even beyond what Malchus was doing at that moment and saw through to his humanity and sought to heal him.
May that increasingly be our story. May that increasingly be the representation of the church to the world - peacemakers working to bring healing and reconciliation amidst division and strife.