Drones, the Marathon Bombing And Today’s Liturgy of the Word (Sunday Homily)

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.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

10 thoughts on “Drones, the Marathon Bombing And Today’s Liturgy of the Word (Sunday Homily)”

  1. Powerful piece ~ from start to finish. I hope to God that the President reads this (and that he listened to the young man’s testimony). I do not understand how the President can continue to do what he is doing. He’s a very smart man; surely he is not blind to the unnecessary suffering we are causing. But that thought is a really scary one.
    I know people resent this line of thinking, Mike; but it is so ‘right on’.
    Peggy P.

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  2. Expanding our loving concern to ALL sentient beings is a basic understanding of real spirituality. Anything less than that only serves the narrow selfish ego — the very thing that must die within us for Spirit to be realized.

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  3. I can understand why many people, including friends and family, would be angered by your ideas comparing the Boston bombing to our country’s drone policy. Many Americans, I believe, do not want to know the truth about what their government is doing in their name. Actually, most of the time we are fed lies that are dutifully spread by the media that is supposed to be objective. We have finally begun to wake up and realize that it is not. Americans just want to feel safe from the hatred of terrorists. The spectre of another 9/11 forever hangs over us.

    We cannot seem to understand why there is so much seething anger and hatred against us in many parts of the world.
    However, It is a fact, is it not, that much of the hatred against anti-Western countries had its beginning with the colonization of Africa as well as the animosity between Christianity and Islam? It is not something that just began; it has been there for centuries. Our use of drones at this particular time as well as our blind acceptance and financial support of Israel’s current government’s treatment of the Palestinians and their constant war mongering just inflames the feelings of hatred and the desire to strike back at us by randomly killing our citizens as we kill theirs. A cycle that appears to have no end.

    The journey of the prophet is a lonely, hazardous one, Mike. But then you already knew that. That is why you tell it like it is. Don’t stop – please. Somehow, more people need to hear the truth.

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  4. What do we do here Mike? We can, and should, always be compassionate to all sentient beings, but that won’t stop the empire. “We” are few and the Empire, particularly when the Democrats are in charge, are very good at convincing the people who would be our allies that war is a regretable necessity.

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    1. I share your questions, Andrew, as my own. It is hard to know what to do. Here in Madison County we’re trying to organize a kind of “Confessing Church” in the spirit of Bonhoeffer and his colleagues. I’m hoping that directions for resistance may come from that.

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  5. Good on you, Mike. I’d like to endorse the previous comments of Guy and Aliceny.

    I also think this topic is not a “non-essential” issue at the margins that Christians can afford to agree to differ over. Rather I see it as absolutely central to human spirituality, to the Gospel and to the Cross of Christ!

    I believe Jesus’ pacifist stance (“love your enemy”) threatened the nationalism of His time. Such nationalism was expressed by Caiaphas when he said “don’t you know that it is better that one man die than the whole nation perish?”. Such nationalism gave rise to the establishment’s hatred for Jesus’ message and as such was the number one reason for their persecution of Him all the way to the cross.

    By enduring such opposition as a human being, Jesus’ faith in our heavenly Father was tried and proven – both for the sake of His own individual relationship with God as a human, and as a testimony to the world at large. His faith is the great model for our faith. By the example of the quality and depth of His trust in God He became the “pioneer and perfecter” of our faith.

    I believe Jesus’s pacifist response to those persecuting Him also provided new opportunities for God and for humanity. Firstly, for God, Jesus’ willingness to “love not His life even unto death” gave the Triune One the opportunity to show us His plan, pleasure and power in resurrecting the man Jesus as the “first fruits” of the intended universal bodily resurrection.

    Secondly, Jesus’ trust and His resulting resurrection provided a testimony that ordinary humanity (such as the thousands of early martyrs) can live un-cowed by those who can only hurt the body (kill us). Through the Gospel, Jesus provides us the opportunity to become clear-sighted in regard to how the fear of death (and the suspicion of God thereby implied) keeps us in bondage and underwrites nationalistic agendas whenever and wherever they occur (which is virtually at every time and place in the history of the world since the dawn of civilization).

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