I got into trouble with a lot of people over the last week or ten days. It all goes back to the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15th. The very next morning I found myself writing a blog entry that drew fire from friends who go back with me nearly sixty years, and even from my family members. I had written that the Marathon Bombing paled in comparison with the havoc and destruction the United States’ drone policy creates in the world virtually every day.
For instance, last week in the Senate hearing on that policy, a young Yemeni activist, Farea Al-Muslimi, gave testimony about the destruction in his village brought about by a drone attack that had occurred a few weeks earlier. [Do yourself a favor and see the video of his testimony (above); it went viral last week.] Women and children were killed by the drone apparently intended to eliminate a single person who might easily have been apprehended by local police. Instead, the missile launching killed indiscriminately. In the resulting carnage, the young man said, you couldn’t distinguish the bodies of women and children from their animals which had also been killed in the raid. The human victims had to be buried with their animals as though there were no difference between them.
According to the young activist, drones hovering over villages like his own, ready to release their deadly cargo are a form of terrorism. They have for Yemenis become the new face of the United States, and have caused great anger and hatred towards our country. Drones are what Yemenis now think of when they hear “America.” They represent a highly effective recruiting tool for what Americans understand as “terrorists.”
This means that in the activist’s own village, the drones accomplished in an instant what the propaganda of Islamic jihadists had been unable to do after years of effort.
It was this sort of testimony that I had in mind when I wrote the morning after the Marathon bombing. I was also inspired by the kind of faith-consciousness communicated by the readings in this morning’s liturgy of the word. Those readings call us to embrace an awareness of the unity of the entire human race. All are our sisters and brothers, the readings emphasize; Yeminis are as important to God as we are. Put otherwise, all four readings call us beyond the nationalism that makes us so sensitive to violence directed towards our own people, while ignoring or down-playing much greater terror our country directs towards those we consider “foreign” or “other.”
In fact, today’s liturgy of the word might well be considered a hymn of praise to the God of Love who cherishes everyone and everything equally. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles highlights the expansion of the understanding of God’s Chosen People. Paul and Barnabas extend the concept from the Jews to non-Jews – i.e. to gentiles. God’s people are found not merely in Israel, but in strange sounding places like Lystra, Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga, Attalia, and Antioch.
The author of the Book of Revelation concurs with Paul’s interpretation. In his utopian vision of the “end of time,” John of Patmos hears a loud voice proclaiming, “God’s dwelling is with the human race.” Did you hear that? God’s People are found not just in Israel (or in “America”), but are co-extensive with the entire human race. People of all nations constitute God’s Chosen, John says. In other words, God considers everyone God’s beloved simply in virtue of their being human.
However, John “loud voice” also suggests that God is especially partial to the poor and oppressed. God wishes that tearful people stop crying. God’s kingdom is an entirely new dispensation without premature death, mourning, wailing, or pain. The suggestion here is an understanding of God’s chosen people as those within the human race who suffer the most. (As a nation, Americans, it seems, are not in that category.)
Does this mean that in our assessment of world events, the suffering should be given greater attention than the well-off?
Moreover, God’s love extends beyond humans to all of physical creation. The responsorial psalm describes God as generous, merciful, slow to anger, exceedingly kind, and good to all. That “all” includes everything God has made. In the psalmist’s words, God is “compassionate to all his works.”
Finally, today’s brief gospel reading suggests that the vocation of Christians is to mirror God’s universal love specifically as reflected in Yeshua ben Joseph – who accepted his own death at the hands of the violent rather than defend himself or take the lives of others .
Yeshua’s followers, John the evangelist suggests, must be willing to love in the same way Jesus loved. We must be ready to give our lives for “the least of our brothers and sisters” – to die ourselves before taking the lives of poor Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghanis, Iraqis, Somalis . . . . (That’s what the words of the gospel seem to propose!)
But there’s a warning with all this talk of God’s universal love. Nationalism is strong. Criticizing it evokes energetic resistance. This is the thrust of Paul’s words in today’s first reading when he says that “It is necessary to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” Evidently some within the emerging Christian community wanted to stick with the old narrow notion of “God’s People” limiting it to a single nation. They thought of the community of Yeshua as a reformed wing of Judaism. As the reading from Acts tells us, they resisted Paul’s more expansive reinterpretation, sometimes violently.
Something similar can happen today when the suffering of “those others” are equated or even prioritized over the suffering of our compatriots.
Nonetheless, today’s readings remind us that in God’s eyes there are no “others.” If they are human, if they are part of God’s creation, they are God’s children every bit as important as “Americans.” Their suffering (especially when it originates from our hands) should be prioritized over our own.
That’s where I was coming from last week.