Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbor as yourself. – Matthew 22:36, 39
During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the congregation I serve joined many congregations in the Twin Cities in posting small signs around the outside of our campus wishing our Muslim neighbors a blessed Ramadan. It was a simple act that sought to acknowledge the importance of Ramadan to our Muslim neighbors and make it clear that we refuse to allow the actions of extremists to undermine our love for our neighbor.
Last week we received the following note to our general web address:
Drove by your church today which I was thinking of joining and saw your happy Ramadan signs and was absolutely repulsed by your suggesting that we embrace people that are trying to kill us. I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant when he said love thy neighbor. Muslims are satanic…wake up.
The note saddens me on many levels, but I want to address the statement, “I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant when he said love thy neighbor.” Actually, I think it’s exactly what Jesus meant.
While I adamantly disagree with the suggestion that all Muslims are terrorists, even those who live out of that false assumption should know from the Gospels that Jesus calls us to love even terrorists. Consider that the Romans were the terrorists of Jesus’ day. Crucifixion itself was a tool of terrorism, intended to frighten citizens into submission. And how did Jesus interact with Romans? He healed the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5ff) and asked God to forgive them as they nailed him to the cross (Luke 23:34). While we may not like it the Gospels are clear: love and forgiveness are our response to those with whom we are at enmity.
There is much to fear in this world, and fear often warps our hearts and our vision. Do not let fear limit the unlimited love of God revealed in Jesus. Instead let that love transform your heart and flow through your life. Loving our neighbors and our enemies is both challenging and challenges our preconceived biases. All the more reason to stay close to Jesus, letting Jesus guide our hearts.
With whom are you at enmity? What will it look like to love them as Jesus loved?
Jeff Marian is lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN