How Did Jesus Respond to Religious Hatred?

by Bill Clark

Recently, while at a birthday party for a Muslim friend, the host came and shared that he had read some disturbing anti-Muslim writing in response to an interview in which he had been the main Muslim voice. Abdullah was quite pleased with the article, written by a Christian academic who was genuinely interested in Abdullah’s views, but it was the comments to the article that disturbed him.

I teach introduction to Sociology at a local college, and in today’s lectures on terrorism, part of a section on politics, I asked the students, ‘What does a terrorist look like?’ It was a trick question of course to get them thinking about the stereotypes that dominate our culture’s thinking of what type of people commit terrorist acts. Rather than talk about the (expected) Middle East we took a detour to Norway to review the depressing story of Anders Breivik, a blond, blue eyed terrorist whose dual acts of murder in July of 2011 resulted in the deaths of 77 people. His ideology includes hatred toward Muslim immigrants in Europe, and his defense of his actions was based on his desire to restore ‘Christendom’ in Europe. In a well-known statement, Jonathan Swift writes, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”

In order to watch and learn how Jesus reacted to this kind of religious hate, I look to Mark's Gospel to see how it played out in his day. In Mark 3:1-6, Jesus heals a man's withered hand at a weekly religious gathering. The room was charged with strong and conflicting emotions, and even Jesus felt anger and sadness toward the men who cared more about religious traditions than the healing (and restoration to the community) of the disabled man.

The religious leaders reacted not in joy and celebration, but in hatred, anger, and plots of murder focused on Jesus himself (I am not sure if it is comforting or not to know Jesus was not unaware of his contemporaries’ hatred). This hatred, fueled by religious ideology, must have seemed so just and right. Wasn’t Jesus upsetting the religious norms of the gathering? Why could he not simply come back the next day when it was quiet and heal the fellow then? Yet Jesus responded with anger to this sort of thinking and responded by performing an act of radical mercy in the face of it. How do you think this Jesus would respond to those who plot violence in the name of religious tradition in our day?