Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua*
The persecution of Jesus Christ did not stop with his physical crucifixion. But his reaction to this unjust pain and suffering makes him a model of peace. In Christian spirituality, a mortal sin is akin to crucifying Jesus all over again. Whether this attack is from within or without, it would be a contradiction for any Christian to chant, “In the name of Jesus” while killing a person. This is because Jesus did not teach or practice either physical or moral violence that anybody can reference in an act of terrorism. One would then wonder where the Christian Crusaders got their inspiration to fight. The Crusaders could not convert people and nations with the ‘sword’ because Jesus recommended the ‘WORD’ for the spread of the Gospel. Whoever is converted by the sword will forever look up to the blue sky for true peace! Jesus is a perfect example that there is no compulsion in religion. Consequently, the need of a New Testament is imperative for the modern age. For instance, adherents of Judaism could cite some chapters of the Old Testament to support war and violence. Perhaps the perennial war in some parts of the Holy Land (where the prophets were born) could have been avoided if all the ancestors of Israel and Palestine accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah and the Prince of Peace.
No message of Jesus Christ abrogates an earlier message even though the Evangelists report the narratives in different context. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14, 6). Without the “New Testament”, the stories of war in the “Old Testament” could be used to support violence. This could be the reason why Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, ‘You shall not kill, and anyone who kills will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matthew 5, 21-22). That Jesus is the true peace of the world (Ephesians 2, 13-18) was prophesied by Isaiah: “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9, 6).
Some Islamic scholars are of the view that, “Islam is not a new religion, but the same truth that God revealed through all his prophets” (http://www.islamicity.com) According to them the Arabic word, ‘Islam’ stands for ‘Submission’ or ‘Peace’. In a religious context, it implies the peace that reaches out to one when one completely submits oneself to the will of Almighty God. This is achieved only when the individual acts in accordance with the direction of his Creator in all spheres of life (http://www.nicheoftruth.org). Christians believe that Jesus is the true peace for every Christian and for all that exists (Ephesians 2, 4). He calls peacemakers children of God (Matthew 5, 9). He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14, 27). “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors were locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you” (John 20, 19).
According to the Muslims, Islam is a complete way of life. Every Muslim is enjoined to practically keep to the rules of Islam (peace) in every aspect of life. This should be demonstrated in words and deeds and not only in the five pillars of Islam, namely, faith, prayer, fasting, alms (Zakkah) and pilgrimage (to Makkah). About six hundred years before the advent of Islamic religion, Jesus had taught his followers to have faith in God, pray without ceasing, fast and to love even the enemies. The goal of the mission of Jesus is the salvation of the human person and the glory of God. Since Islam came much later, it would be logical to say that with the adherents of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the world ought to be a new heaven and a new paradise where “the wolf can dwell with the lamb, the leopard lies down with the goat, the calf and the young lion live together with a little boy to lead them. Yes, a world where the cow and the bear grazes and their young lie down together without hurting one another” (Isaiah 11, 5-7). That this type of peaceful world is not realisable calls for a serious re-examination of what religion means for the various adherents.
The dictionary defines “peace” as the absence of war or other hostilities; freedom from quarrels and disagreement; harmonious relations; inner contentment; serenity; peace of mind and respect for law and order. The word “obey” comes from the Greek “hupakou” meaning, to listen attentively to a command or authority. The word “submit” comes from the Greek “hupeiko”, to yield or surrender to an authority. Submission and obedience are similar in the sense that this action is performed in freedom without force. Jesus teaches that those who hear the word of God and put it into practice are ever more blessed (Luke 11, 28). Even in his passion, Jesus accepted the will of God” (Luke 22, 39-42). His suffering did not tempt him to prescribe defence and retaliation. He never told his followers to fight those who fight them. Rather, he said “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5, 44).
Jesus came to give light to those in darkness, those who dwell in the shadow of death and guide us into the way of peace” (Luke 1, 76-79). He thought his disciples not to resist those who do evil (Matthew 5, 38-42) by vengeance as practiced by the Jewish ancestors who believed in “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” (Matthew 5, 38; Exodus 21, 24). The desire of Jesus for human beings is to be at peace with one another (Mark 9, 50). He lamented and wept for Jerusalem for their ignorance of the message of peace. He wished that if only Jerusalem had known the value of peace (Luke 19, 42).
Jesus practiced what he preached. During his trial, “One of the guards standing there hit him. The guard said, “You should not talk to the high priest like that!” Jesus answered, “If I said something wrong, then say it. If the things I said are right, then why do you hit me (John 18, 21-23)? Jesus did not fight back. In his most excruciating pains and agony on the cross, he did not curse his executioners. He prayed for them, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23, 34). He had warned his disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16, 33). In sending out his apostles, he said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20, 21 & 26)! The Qur’an affirms that Mary was given a sinless son who is faultless and perfect in the eyes of God so that Jesus, the son of Mary, would be an example to all the nations of the world (Sura Maryam 19, 19). The teaching and the life of Jesus should be a model for every peace loving person. His profile qualifies him as such. We should therefore imitate him and give peace a chance in a world where the terrorists are refusing to wane.
*Fr. Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja and Consultor of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (C.R.R.M), Vatican City (firstname.lastname@example.org).