The late Father Lawrence Jenco was an American held hostage for 18 months by Islamist radicals in Lebanon in the mid 1980s. He recounts his experiences in a book, “Bound to Forgive,” in which he describes how he was required to forgive his captors.
For him, and for the Amish community so devastated by a horrible school room massacre 5 1/2 years ago, it was their belief in the words and actions of Jesus Christ that demand of his followers the power of forgiveness.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”
It doesn’t get much more direct from Jesus than that.
Last Sunday many Christians heard in their churches a bible reading from the First Letter of John. It is one of the most quoted in all of the New Testament: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
It is a natural human response to be angry or even vengeful when something like the horrific events of Thursday night, May 3, prematurely ended the lives of two women at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, Md. Both the Rev. Dr. Mary-Marguerite Kohn and Ms. Brenda Brewington loved God’s people. They had committed their lives to extending the love, mercy and compassion of Jesus to anyone who showed up at the church's doors. And they were martyred while showing God's love that night.
Knowing that they dedicated their lives to compassion and forgiveness, I think those women would want us to offer any of our churches as a place to host the funeral of the man who gave in to temptation and introduced evil into that parish community.
The anger that I think is justified should be directed at a society that worships the gun. We think that having such weapons readily available will deter crime. Statistics prove that wrong every year with the number of victims of gun violence in the country in the thousands.
The anger should also be directed at those who vote to keep guns so easily available that a disturbed homeless man in a suburban Maryland community could use such a weapon as his answer to the problems in his life. Many of those who vote to keep guns so prevalent are the same ones who vote to eliminate programs for the hungry and homeless.
When the poor have no other place to go, they end up on the doorsteps of churches and other houses of worship. Our volunteers are putting their lives on the line to help those that our society treats as "throw-away people." We are doing our part; is it too much to ask of our governmental leaders to do theirs?
Someone said recently that violence has become the spirituality of our society. It seems to be the answer to almost every dispute. Our directions as Christians were heard in last Sunday’s Epistle: “…if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
That’s not just a commandment for Episcopalians but for every person who seeks to follow Jesus Christ.
The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton is the Bishop of Maryland of The Episcopal Church.