The recent terrorist attack at the two Islamic worship centers in Christchurch, New Zealand — which left at least 50 Muslims dead — has raised up a question every person of faith needs to answer: how should we respond when members of other religions are attacked for their beliefs?
In particular, the large global community of evangelical Christians must be able to answer this question, for it’s being asked with increased frequency. We were asked this question last October when a white supremacist killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We were asked it again in February, when a suicide bomber killed over 50 Indian security personnel — most of them Hindu — in Kashmir. And in fact, we must answer this question today, as reports emerge of the imprisonment and torture of Jehovah Witnesses in Russia.
Now, we should all be able to agree that every human being — regardless of religious affiliation, nationality, race or gender — has the right to believe or not believe as he or she chooses. This is a fundamental human right, which originated in the Judeo-Christian worldview.
But if we claim to truly follow Jesus, we must go beyond just acknowledging a person’s right to worship. We must cross the road, tend to their wounds and show them unconditional love. Jesus taught us as much through The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
As the story goes, one day a religious scholar approached Jesus, and wanting to test him, asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus, in typical fashion, answered with another question: what does the law say?
The scholar, who undoubtedly had memorized large portions of the Bible, answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But the religious scholar, wanting to “justify himself,” asked Jesus one last question: “And who is my neighbor?”
This time, Jesus’ responds with a story:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.”
Now, at this point we must pause or we will miss the twist Jesus just inserted into the story. Samaritans and Jews were not friends. The Bible doesn’t hide the fact: “Jews do not associate with Samaritans,” (John 4:9).
The Samaritans were descendants of Jews who remained in Israel during the Assyrian captivity (circa 722 B.C.). This remnant intermarried with Gentiles and over time developed their own worship system. Because of these reasons, Jews did not consider Samaritans to be truly Jewish, though they had much more in common than differences. Over the centuries, the enmity between Jews and Samaritans would worsen. Even to this day echoes of their rift can be heard in the tiny surviving Samaritan community that lives in Israel.
So when Jesus — a Jew himself — says a Samaritan had pity on the man left on the side of the road while two of his own people walked around him, he is saying something quite scandalous. Even more, Jesus says the Samaritan didn’t just have pity but went to great lengths to care for the man:
“[The Samaritan] went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”
Jesus then turns to the religious scholar and asks him, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
And here we see how Jesus turns the entire scenario upside-down. The scholar wanted to know where the boundaries stood, who’s in and who’s out of his loving community. It’s the perennial tribal mindset that dominates how people around the world have treated each other throughout history. It usually goes: family first, followed by tribe, religion, nationality, race, gender, and so on.
But to Jesus it’s not about figuring out who is your neighbor — it’s about whether you are a neighbor to those around you. Jesus is saying: when you meet someone’s need, you become a neighbor to that person.
If we claim to follow Jesus, we cannot remain silent or passive when Muslims, Hindus, Jews, or members of any other faith are in need. Too often have we walked around them, distracted by our trivial issues and agendas. Jesus calls us to stop, cross the road, and tend to their wounds.
As Muslims in New Zealand begin to bury their loved ones this week, the evangelical community has the opportunity to come around and simply love them how Jesus taught us to love — no caveats, no what ifs, no strings attached.
Most Rev. Joseph D’Souza is widely considered one of the most influential voices of global Christianity. He is a justice and peace campaigner, civil rights advocate, interfaith peacemaker and Christian theologian. Rev. D’Souza is the founder and international president of Dignity Freedom Network, a multinational advocacy and humanitarian aid alliance dedicated to restoring human dignity to the poor, marginalized and outcastes of South Asia. Since its founding in 2001, the network has impacted an estimated 14 million people through its educational, anti-human trafficking, health care and economic development initiatives. Rev. D’Souza presides as moderator bishop and primate — or archbishop — over the Good Shepherd Church of India. He is a sought-after international speaker, participating in conferences, peace summits and civil society forums across the world and debriefing governmental bodies on religious freedom and human rights issues. He is a contributor at The Hill and The Washington Times, among others. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.