Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 19, 2019
Reading 1: Acts 14:21-27
Psalm 145: 8-9, 10-11, 12-13
Reading 2: Revelation 21:1-5a
Gospel: John 13:31-33a, 34-35
“Them” versus “Us.”
Every day, boundaries visible and invisible mark who is in and who is out. Time and time again, people make decisions big and small based on “Them” versus “Us.” It does not always end in death, but it can. Even Christians who have heard of Jesus saying, “love one another” (Jn 13:34), can interpret this Sunday’s passage from John’s gospel in ways that pervert its meaning. On May 1st, The Washington Post journalist, Julie Zauzmer, began her feature story in this way:
“Before he allegedly walked into a synagogue in Poway, Calif., and opened fire [on April 27th], John Earnest appears to have written a seven-page letter spelling out his core beliefs: that Jewish people, guilty in his view of faults ranging from killing Jesus to controlling the media, deserved to die. That his intention to kill Jews would glorify God.”
Days later, the reporter tells us, his evangelical pastor “read those words and was stunned. ‘It certainly calls for a good amount of soul-searching.'” An understatement.
What could this killer have meant by “glorify God”! Where did he learn those words? By what process, in what contexts, because of what influencers did he come to believe that “glorify God” meant “kill the Jews”? Anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly, hateful head within Christianity in the 21st century, despite all the sermons and church teachings that have preached love for God’s Chosen People. This Sunday we hear the Jewish Jesus admonishing his Jewish disciples at the Last Supper:
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another. – Jn 13:33-34
When Jesus taught his “new commandment,” did he mean that the disciples were to only love other disciples, those in the inner circle, “Us”?
When a man carrying arms, ammunition, and hate in his heart went into the Tree of Life synagogue on October 27th in Pittsburgh and killed 11 worshipers, the Muslim community raised money to pay for funeral expenses for the victims and pledged they would literally stand in solidarity with the Pittsburgh Jewish community and protect them when next they gathered to pray. And they did. A member of the synagogue, Molly Pascal, recalled the experience in The Washington Post, March 15, 2019:
As I waited for the service to begin, people I didn’t know filed in. Soon, the row behind me held a half-dozen strangers, the women in traditional abaya and hijab. I looked around and saw many Muslim families like them joining the crowd. When our congregation rose to speak the mourner’s Kaddish, they rose with us. Afterward, we thanked them. They offered us their condolences and invited us to attend a service at the Islamic center. Salaam, I said, Shalom, they said.
Not long after, [Wasiullah] Mohamed, the executive director of the Islamic Center, coordinated an event bringing together survivors from the January 29, 2017 terrorist attack on the mosque in Quebec with the survivors from Pittsburgh. They all wept together.
On March 15th, another man carrying arms, ammunition and hate in his heart went from mosque to mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, and killed 50 people. Jewish, Christian, Sikh and other faith communities opened their places of worship for them, gave donations, and did whatever they could to stand in solidarity against the terrorist and his ideology of white extremism. This response to the attacks reverberated beyond New Zealand. The following week, on the other side of the world in a town in New Jersey, “130 people from area temples and churches joined hands in a circle – ‘a ring of peace,’ as they called it — around the mosque to protect their Muslim sisters and brothers at prayer. Similar events were going on outside mosques around the world,” reported Russ Zimmer of the Asbury Park Press, March 22, 2019.
On Easter Sunday in the capital city of Accra, Ghana’s chief imam, Sheikh Osman Sharubutu, attended a Catholic liturgy at Christ the King Church as part of his 100th birthday celebrations, the BBC recently reported. By his actions, this grand mufti stood for the “virtues of love, peace, and forgiveness,” his spokesperson explained. BBC News reporter Favour Nunoo noted poignantly: “His attendance was given even more resonance as on the day he was being pictured alongside parish priest Father Andrew Campbell, Islamist suicide bombers unleashed attacks in Sri Lanka, killing more than 250 people at churches and hotels,” May 11, 2019.
In the midst of the horrors of religious intolerance and violence, the good news is that people of faith — and of no faith — have been and are ready to stand with those who are “Them.” Each time they do, the circle of who is included in “love one another” widens, and the “kin-dom of God” breaks forth, as mujerista theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz would say.
In a powerful short speech given immediately after the Christchurch attacks, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called on her people to see those Muslims killed and wounded — including the migrants and refugees among them — as their very own. One sentence, though, got echoed across social media countless times. People of peace posted throughout cyberspace Ardern’s simple words: #TheyAreUs.
Associate Professor of Liturgy, Arts, and Communications