Last evening we were moved to read of the plight of followers of Jesus who suffer and die at the hands of ISIS. This particular report came from a church official in country who plead for Christians everywhere to help them. As we have often read over the last year, people who bear the name of Jesus are singled out and simply killed. The bear the Arabic “Nun,” like English “N,” for Nazarene. For no other reason than that, their heads are cut off. What should we do when ISIS kills? Here are a few things to consider.
We protest in all the places we know. We make the case that such treatment–whether of Christians or Muslims or Atheists–of any group does not serve the well-being of any other group. Killing the other because they are other and will not be convinced of our way–this has always been and always will be a dead-end! It is in the interest of all to denounce them and work to stop them, not because they are wrong in their beliefs, but because they kill innocents and in so doing they threaten all.
We do not profile. ISIS expresses a certain fringe view of Islam, but their outrageous acts do not position them as spokespersons for all Islam. What makes their crimes unacceptable and an affront to all humanity is their violent taking of life in service to their cause. When people act as law-unto-themselves they set themselves up as arbiters of right and wrong and good and evil. They declare themselves to be God, and hold the human race hostage to their demands. I am not an expert in Islam, but I know that most Muslim people are as scandalized by this as I am. ISIS no more speaks for Islam than the Ku Klux Klan or the Spanish Inquisition speaks for Christianity.
We are not surprised when people who bear the name of Jesus are treated the way Jesus was treated. This is what Jesus told us would happen. If they hated me they will hate you. If they do not understand, hear, and treat you well, remember they treated me in these ways before you. Jesus even says, the servant is not greater than the master, even in such an extreme matter! Outrageous suffering for following Jesus has been happening from the beginning of his movement in the world. This is not the first to attempt to eliminate Christ-following by murdering the followers. This is, in fact, a reflection of the way of Jesus, or it may be. The more Jesus loved, the more he was hated. The more he insisted on another image of God, the more he was maligned and eventually executed. The more he acted in mercy and compassion, the more his deeds seemed to threaten those who viewed him as rival. And, the more he spoke against the abuses of his own religious authorities, the more he sealed his own fate at their hands. We should not be surprised when following Jesus leads to suffering and even dying.
We pray for all who suffer the threat and face the dangers. We pray they and their loved ones would be spared; we pray that the people who kill would stop or be stopped. We pray especially for the extremely vulnerable, the children and the elderly. We pray for people in authority to leverage their power and their connections in the interest of the vulnerable. We pray for peace and righteousness to prevail over those regions. We pray for whatever intervention might open a better way for all people to live well, safely and securely. We pray for a miracle!
We also pray that Jesus will be represented well, with faith and hope by all who are there and all who respond to what is happening. We pray that Jesus’ way would be on display, even in trial, even in dying if it comes to that. We pray that resurrection power would somehow be manifest. We pray … . Our words and our imaginations may fail us here. We may not know how to pray, what words and possibilities might be voiced to the God and Father of Jesus our Lord. We may not be able to do anything other than groan. So, we groan and we groan until we sense Another groaning with us and we have faith to believe that a connection has been made in courts and temples we can only scarcely imagine. We pray.
We help in whatever other way possible. There are relief efforts, agencies that care for the threatened, offer shelter for the refugees, and seek to do good in places made infamous by heinous evil. We help by helping whoever we can, when we can, however we can. There are refugees around us, the vulnerable who live in danger of different kinds. Helping them may not directly help the suffering elsewhere, but if Jesus really is present with the suffering and vulnerable as he claimed, then helping Jesus-among-the-suffering in one place at the least creates a solidarity with the efforts of Jesus who is present in the face of the current threat. Perhaps we may one day find out that helping Jesus in one way and in one place, helps in other ways and places as well.
We maintain our hope and confidence that at the end of the story there awaits an empty tomb, a risen Lord, and the triumph of love. This is not the first time some have tried to end the Jesus- movement by violence and death. It may not be the last. So far, all such attempts have failed to rewrite the story. Indeed, sometimes even the attempts themselves suffer a loving hijack and become part of new beginnings.