The American ambassador to Libya killed in Benghazi, western countries’ embassies and their staff attacked in many countries, clashes between angry mobs and police trying to protect diplomatic missions. All these have recently happened because of an alleged very poor film made by an individual living in California. The film apparently was a private affair, not involving any established entertaining company or American authorities. Moreover, the film had been available on the Internet long before the current riots and killings. Truly appalling is the readiness of many people to kill someone because they feel upset.
In Western cultural circles our ‘greatest prophet’, Jesus Christ, has been presented in many different ways by many artists; some of their works were shocking and raised public discussions and protests, like the film ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ in the late 1980s. In Paris, St Michael’s Theatre, showing the film, was attacked with Molotov cocktails, that damaged the building heavily and injured thirteen people, with four of them severely burned. After the attack the then archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean Marie Lustiger – himself a great opponent to the film – said about the attackers: ‘You don’t behave as Christians but as enemies of Christ. From the Christian point of view, one doesn’t defend Christ with arms. Christ himself forbade it.’
Since then some pop stars have learnt to use sacrilegious lyrics, behaviours or shows to trigger protests and in such a way have attracted the attention of the media and the public always interested in scandals. Zealous defenders of the Christian faith were unintentionally taking part in advertising campaigns in favour to those they protested against, and gaining a label of religious freaks, which hardly helped their case. It seems that some Christians haven’t learnt their lesson yet and they defend their stance using the language and arguments that win support for their opponents, even within their own fold.
Today’s first reading shows someone physically and mentally attacked by his enemies; let’s listen to it again: ‘I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle.’ Surely this persecution was hugely unpleasant and upsetting, and the reaction of the persecuted is very strange: subjection to it rather than fighting back. Seemingly a more natural reflex would be self-defence; and for many the best self-defence is to attack. But the persecuted individual in the first reading has a different approach: ‘The Lord comes to my help, so that I am untouched by the insults. The Lord is coming to my help, who dare condemn me?’ No aggression, no confrontation – but the certainty of God’s support is his strength.
In my life I’ve been called names, sworn at and insulted many times, like most of us. For years I felt upset and saddened. But one day I realised that some things said about me were simply untrue, so why should I have cared about them? They were not describing me. And since then I’ve developed a very simple, but extremely useful and powerful approach. If someone says something bad about me I consider whether it’s true. If so, I make the effort to change that criticized element in my life; if it’s not true, I don’t care, because it’s not about me. When someone calls me names I don’t care, because it displays the insulting person’s bad manners. With such an attitude I’ve been able to correct myself and at the same time to keep peace of mind.
Being Christians doesn’t mean we have to accept bullying and intimidation; we don’t have to accept insults and slanders. Being Christian means we don’t react with aggression, but compassion. Aggression is the weapon of the weak, powerless and insignificant – and compassion is the way of helping them. Our weapon is our faith in God. He doesn’t need defenders – He needs proclaimers of his love and compassion.