43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,[a] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48, ESV
These words are from the passage of scripture in Matthew known as “The Sermon on the Mount.” It was probably more of a collection of the common themes of Jesus’ preaching in several places. The theme expressed in this passage is the very core of the Christian faith, the visible expression of acceptance of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin, and the very essence of being committed to Jesus.
Love your enemies. That’s about as radical as it gets.
The Christian faith is built on a foundation of systematic theology that has God appearing in the flesh, in the person of Jesus his son, to bring salvation to his fallen creation. The belief system is systematic because it moves outward from the virgin birth, sinless life, death, burial, resurrection and promised return of Jesus. The path that believers follow leads to what is called an abundant spiritual life which provides a connection and a relationship to God while the physical life experiences the realities of a fallen creation. The Bible, which is considered the authoritative source of God’s revelation of himself to humanity in written form, defines and describes the spiritual life. This particular passage is the most defining feature of what I will refer to as the Christian life.
First of all, it is a quote from Jesus himself. One of the principles of the systematic nature of Christian faith is that what Jesus said, and the examples he provided, are the primary substance of faith. He is the foremost authority on Christianity, so to speak. But the frequency of which this particular principle is brought up all through the New Testament is another indicator of just how important the idea expressed here is to the very core and essence of being Christian. Jesus keeps coming back to this principle in numerous ways. He declares that loving your neighbor as yourself is one of the two greatest commandments given by God. He defines “neighbor” as the next human being with whom you come in contact. Two of the more prolific New Testament authors, Paul and John, both go to great lengths to make sure their readers know that the strength of their Christian faith is measured by the way they treat other people. In Romans 12, Paul declares that one of the marks of a true Christian is genuine and sincere love, and that blessing those who persecute you is a demonstration of that love. In I John 4, there is a flat out declaration that he who does not love does not know God, because God is love. Next to believing and testifying about Jesus, John says that unqualified love for others is how we know that we abide in God, and that God abides in us.
So where does that leave us when it comes to Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev?
I’m not talking about a government, or law enforcement response. They did something terrible, committed several crimes in the process, and whatever consequences come about as a result of that are justified. I’m talking about taking this particular principle from the gospel of Jesus, and applying it in this particular situation. Loving your enemies, demonstrating the kind of unconditional love for all humanity that God did through Jesus, becomes exponentially difficult in this circumstance.
It becomes impossible.
The term “radical Islam” and the process of radicalization have climbed onto the radar screen in our circumstances since 9-11. Let’s be honest, as American Christians, we don’t have a high threshold of tolerance for people who practice other world religions. In fact, we don’ t have a very high level of tolerance for Chrsitians whose beliefs and doctrines aren’t exactly in line with our own. So Radical Islam, which is defined as that segment of the Muslim faith that resorts to terrorism to accomplish its ends, poses a particularly difficult dilemna for Christians who are trying to be Christlike. I don’t think there would be much argument with the statement that it is probably the polar opposite of the Christian faith that Jesus established.
You’re probably waiting for me to tell you how Christians should deal with radical Islam, and specifically, with Dzokhar Tsarnaev. I know the theoretical answer to the question. But I think this does give us something to think about that might stretch our faith. How do we make a difference? In the face of hatred, and violence, how do we put this basic Christian principle, this defining characteristic of Christianity, into practice?
With God, all things are possible. Think about it.