As a person of faith, what do you think about Charlie Hebdo and the attacks that claimed 12 lives at its Paris headquarters last week?
While all of the great wisdom traditions have guidance and comfort to offer to us, the only one that I know well enough to draw upon is the Christian tradition. Thus, in the pain and the disorientation of this time, I’d like to wonder with you about six Gospel principles – six principles about Jesus and, therefore, six principles about being Jesus’ disciples – that might help us to respond both to Charlie Hebdo and to the terrorists who murdered it staff.
1. Jesus consistently rejects violence. Jesus rebukes his disciples when they ask him if they should call down fire upon the village that did not welcome him. In Gethsemane, faced with the soldiers who will take him to his death, Jesus tells Peter to put away his sword. Even on the cross, Jesus refuses to call for revenge against the people who are torturously ending his life. And thus, I think that this is where we must begin: discipleship calls us to reject the violence of the terrorists. And, lest we forget, discipleship calls us to reject violence in response to their actions.
2. Jesus mourns. The words, “Don’t be too sad, the people who died are with God now” never appear in the Bible. The words, “Jesus wept” do. Sorrow is a faithful response to the violence in Paris. Tears are a faithful response to the violence in Paris. Tears for those who died, tears for those who are wounded, tears for everyone who now must carry the awful burden of trauma. Discipleship calls us to honor grief.
3. Jesus is a satirist. The examples in the Gospel of Jesus using pointed humor to teach are numerous. Perhaps my favorite is his folk tale about Lazarus and the rich man. That story is as scathing – and as funny – an indictment of selfishness as you will find anywhere. The vital distinction between Jesus’ satire and the satire of Charlie Hebdo – the chasm, if you like, that exists between the two – is that Gospel satire is always directed against the powerful, never against those on the margins. Therefore, even as we reject violence and we grieve, discipleship calls us to remember that Charlie Hebdo’s vicious mockery of France’s Muslim minority is repugnant. And that leads us to:
4. Jesus teaches moral nuance. Jesus is a faithful Jew who, like millions of faithful Jews before him and after him, believes that it is part of his duty to both honor and argue with the Jewish law. Again, the examples are legion. Consider the run of sayings in the fifth Chapter of Matthew in which Jesus cites Jewish scripture with the words, “You have heard that it was said” and then wrestles with this holy text by adding, “But I say to you…” Discipleship calls us to resist the seduction of responding to the tragedy in Paris with moral binaries. Charlie Hebdo is a disgraceful publication that celebrates bigotry and the right to offend is fundamental to a vigorous democracy and the attacks against its staff are inexcusable. The people who committed the murders did so under the sway of a perverse understanding of faith and their actions are not – and we must not allow them to become –a commentary on Islam in general.
5. Jesus stands with the least of these, our brothers and sisters. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus is found with those who suffer and with those who are despised. The people at dinner with him are the sick, the destitute, the prostitutes, and the collaborators who help the occupying Roman forces by collecting tax for them. To put that another way, the people at dinner with Jesus are frequently the ones whom their neighbors hate at least as much as we hate terrorists. What that means is that Jesus was with and is with the twelve whose lives ended in violence on Wednesday. What that means – and this is harder – is that Jesus was with and is with the perpetrators as well. As one of my mentors says, “The problem with committing murder isn’t just that it makes someone dead: the problem with committing murder is that it makes you into a murderer.” Jesus understands the profound violence that the perpetrators have done to their own souls. Discipleship calls us to remember that, even if reconciliation with the perpetrators is too big an undertaking for you and for me, it is not too big an undertaking for God.
6. Jesus hopes for new life; Jesus creates new life. There is a tale about Desmond Tutu in which an interviewer asks him how he can continue to hope given the brutality of existence. And Tutu replies, “I can hope because I’ve read the book – and I know how the story ends!” Throughout the Gospel, Jesus invites those around him to hope for another world. And throughout the Gospel – by teaching, by healing, by sharing countless meals with strangers and friends – Jesus calls that world ever closer. That work of hoping and creating is now our work: in the famous words of Teresa of Avila, “Christ has no body but yours, / No hands, no feet on earth but yours, / Yours are the eyes with which he looks / Compassion on this world…” Discipleship calls us to resist the temptation to retreat into cynicism or anger or despair. Discipleship calls us, in spite of the violence in Paris, in spite of everything, to join in the hard work of hoping for and building a world that is a little more just and generous and forgiving and compassionate and holy. That new world is what Jesus calls the Kingdom.