Herod’s slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago was a crime of the same order as those committed by modern day terrorists.
The massacre is so often forgotten in the recalling of the birth of Jesus, as if Christians do not wish to face up to the realities of life. As in many atrocities the main victims are women and children: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more.’ (Matthew 2:18). Afghanistan and Palestine are present day examples of conflict and continuing terrorism. For the first time suicide bombers have acted in Pakistan, targeting children at school and nurses in hospitals. Such activities in Muslim settings have led to a reaction by some against Muslims.
Reaction is never a Christian response. We are commanded to think biblically about the world in which we live (Romans 12:1-2). I once met two Middle Eastern terrorists, trained for this work since the age of nine. While they were university students on stand-by for terrorist duties, they received hospitality in a Christian home. One of them responded to what he saw of the love of Jesus and became a disciple. Saul of Tarsus was a terrorist until God changed him. We are not called to judge but to treat everyone as a human being created in the image of God. We are to share good news. Our faith is about relationships with God and people. Neither the Muslim in Islamabad or New York nor the Christian terrorist in Northern Ireland portrays valid Islam or true Christianity. They should not be confused with the majority in both faiths who abhor violence.
And what about the women and children – the widows, orphans and the refugees? God has not forgotten the refugees. Jesus and his parents were refugees. It would be interesting to know how they were treated in their exile. The day that changed the world was not September 11, 2001, but a Friday in Jerusalem nearly two thousand years ago when Jesus died for the sins of the world – and rose three days later as victor over sin and death. He ‘opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers’. On the basis of that, his followers are called to see every individual as a fellow human being. Jesus showed remarkable compassion for the marginalized, the despised, the poor, the widow and the orphan, the sick and for children. A fifth of the human race is Muslim. I am glad that Muslims have a higher profile in these days. Jesus’s disciples may become more aware of their debt to all people, including Muslims. To discharge this debt we have to cross into the world of the minaret, a world of different cultures, customs and beliefs.