Jesus and Extremists
 John R. Kleinheksel Sr.
There is a prevailing assumption that you can’t enter into meaningful dialogue with extremists. Let’s define an extremist as one who is convinced of the rightness of his position (and the wrongness of mine). I can be an “extremist” myself, based on personal experience. Relating to those who are of a very different world view is a virtually impossible task. Let me illustrate.Here’s what one well known preacher is quoted to have said:
“. . . and the President is doing the right thing. He’s looking for them [extremists]. He’s killing them when he finds them. And that’s the onlycure for barbarians. . . .If it takes ten years, blow them away in the name of the Lord.”
 This may be an extreme statement not shared by all Christians, but the underlying assumption is, “You can’t talk with these people. The only way is to eliminate them.” How do you get through to someone like that?It is surely accurate to say that all religions (and non-religionists) have their extremists. This has  been documented. There is the fanaticism of faith that excludes conversation with “the secular humanist”,“the other”, the “infidel”, the “enemy”. There is the fanaticism of reason, whose followers refuse to engage “people of faith” in conversation. “True believers” may enshrine their reason or their faith in ways that exclude (or demonize) “the other”. Either you go all the way with them, their beliefs and  behaviors, or you find yourself “outside”. Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Muslims can dismiss “the other”, because they are “wrong”, “ignorant” or “misguided”, or (what is worst) “out to destroy us and/or our way of life”. This sense of insecurity is used to justify any excesses of behavior and the application of “extreme” measures (that might not apply in “normal” times). As a follower of Jesus, I, for one, want to learn lessons from our Leader about how to deal with enemies, people outside of the fold, people who may be or truly are, a threat to me, my “tribe” or my way of life (as a person or citizen). In Jesus’ day and age, the Zealots, Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Herodians, and Samaritans, all had entrenched ways of framing issues and pursuing their agendas, including the diminishment or even destruction of Jesus of Nazareth. How did he deal with them or their representatives? He went about building relationships, speaking God’s message, breaking through boundaries fixed by the politically “correct”, transcending walls erected between “friends and enemies”, embodying God’s vision of “rule” in the midst of societal ferment and turmoil. In the course of this examination, I think we will see Jesus model what we are supposed to do. In each case, we will see how he took on all comers. Will believers have the grace and courage to follow this “Way”?Jesus could have refused to deal with Nicodemus (a ruling Pharisee), because Nick was a member of the Sanhedrin, a religious group that opposed him (eventually seeking his death). Instead, Jesus engaged him in meaningful conversation, leading to a relationship that later bore fruit, breaking open the stereotype (John 3; 19:39f).Jesus could have refused to honor a request from an official from Herod’s court (who needed help with a dying son), because the Herodians (and Pharisees), were intent on “ruining” him (Mark 3:6). Instead, he entered in a relationship with the man and helped solve his family crisis (John 4:46f).Jesus could have refused to respond to John the Baptist, who seemed disturbed that Jesus was not  joining him in identifying wrong-doers and calling upon them to repent or be condemned. Instead, Jesus  praises John as “the greatest prophet” and continues on his way of helping the blind see, the lame walk, 1
 
the deaf hear and the wretched find God’s companionship. Even though Jesus was not about to join John in the desert with his devoted band, he kept the door open to John and Johns followers (Luke 7:18ff).Jesus could have refused to deal with the Roman military officer’s request for help, since the Roman occupation troops were so violently, cruelly oppressing his fellow countrymen. Instead, he offeredto go to the man’s house and heal the man’s servant, complimenting the hated man for his simple trust (Luke 7:1ff).Jesus could have refused to include the Zealots” among his closest followers. After all, their message was the violent overthrow of the hated Roman occupation forces. They were the suicide  bombers of Jesus’ day, ready to plunge a dagger into the gut of a Roman officer or sympathizer, and then slip away into the crowd. Instead, even though committed to non-violence, Jesus cultivated on-going conversations and relationship-building with Zealots, like Simon, one of the Twelve, called “the Zealot”  by Luke (6:12ff).Jesus could have refused to relate to the chairperson of a local synagogue, because these people too, were allied with the Jerusalem religious establishment that sought to tear him down, discredit and destroy his standing among the people. Instead, Jesus treated him with respect, responded positively to his request for help, and went toward the man’s home to revive his deathly ill daughter (Matt. 9:18ff).Jesus could have refused any contact whatsoever with a Samaritan woman in Sychar, (modern  Nablus), for all kinds of reasons. Not only was she a (disreputable) woman, the Samaritans were a heretical group, ethnically impure, and didn’t really want to “receive” him (Luke 9:51-56). Instead, he took the initiative and engaged her in meaningful conversation, leading to probable life change and witness to her fellow townspeople (John 4).With how many “heretics” have you had a deep conversation lately?Jesus could have refused contact with tax collectors, whose business ethics were skewed and who aided and abetted the hated Roman occupying force. Instead he reached through to Levi (Matthew) and Zacchaeus, enlisting them as followers. The Pharisees had a fit, scoffing,
What kind of example is this  from your teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riff-raff? (Message, Matt. 9:9f).
These are just a few examples from the life of Jesus that should guide our actions. What are some lessons to be learned from Jesus’ engagements with politically incorrect persons and groups?
1. Be Ready to be “Politically Incorrect”
Several years ago, a delegation of Presbyterian officials traveling in Israel/Palestine and was severely criticized by denominational leaders for meeting with Palestinian Liberation Organization representatives. Why? Because our government had declared the PLO was a “terrorist” organization. Since when are followers of Jesus forbidden to meet with “enemies”?The correct view now in the United States, is to avoid any contact with Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, or Syria. They are “the enemy”. They want to “destroy us”, our friends, and bring down Western civilization as we know it. Really? So? Followers of Jesus will be ready to engage any of these people. When a Shiite Muslim reaches out to a follower of Jesus, we can respond and engage. (The Al Amana Center in Oman seeks to foster Christian/Muslim conversations.)We can’t keep the ruling class from demonizing “enemies”, and playing their power games. But we are called to pursue a different “Way” than they are following.
2. Refuse to be Hypocritical
The mood in the United States now is that a true Muslim is a violent Muslim, and that there is no  point in “talking with” a Muslim (who must “always” an extremist). When will we admit that Christians (and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists), can be “extremist” as well? Extremism goes back to the earliest 2
 
followers of Jesus. The “Sons of Thunder”, James and John, wanted Jesus to allow them to call down fireon the infidel Samaritans for failing to “receive” him (Luke 9:51ff). Jesus forbade them, saying (in at least one ancient manuscript),
 I didn’t come to destroy but to rescue (Luke 9:52).
As persons, groups and “Christian” nations, we are no more peace-loving than Muslims or Jews, or others who insist on ensuring “security” through violent means. The use of “extremist” (violent) ways is inherent in human nature. We need “life change”, the beginnings of a “new” nature (John 3, and Paul’s letters).
3. Engage
 Anyone
 Who Comes Across our Path
There is a huge divide between secular humanists with their “reason” and “faith-based” religious  persons and groups. Can and will we bridge the divide? The rationalists (anti-supernaturalists) of Jesus’ day were the Sadducee party. Even though Jesus was very different from them, he engaged them in back and forth conversation. He did not seek to destroy them. He did his best to respond to their questions, state his truth and allow God to sort it all out in due time.Like Jesus (and the apostle Paul), we need to reach out to the religious and the irreligious, the naturalists and the super naturalists, oppressed and oppressors, rich and poor, the good and the bad, and find this “new way of life” centered in Jesus of Nazareth (Gal. 3:28, 29; Col. 3:9-11).
4. Speak Truth and Do Right, Even in the Face of Personal Peril
One day, the Pharisees warned Jesus that King Herod (Antipas) was after him, to kill him. Now
that 
 should have made him afraid! Apparently, the government found him subversive or dangerous. Jesusshowed no fear for his life. Instead, he brushed off the warning, saying he had work to do (helping peopleovercome forces too big for them, healing the sick). He wasn’t going to worry about or confront Herod at that point. The future would unfold as God willed (Luke 13:31ff).Some Christians are falsely taking on the world’s fears that we might be annihilated. For those who bear a cross (to a place of crucifixion), is this a valid fear? Do followers of Jesus fear dying? “Don’tget enmeshed in those fears”, Jesus clearly seems to be saying today.
 Do not fear those who can kill the body and after that can do no more (Luke 12:4).
 Do what you’re called upon to do, with compassion, competency and consistency. Don’t get entangled in power games until it becomes inevitable, and then I’ll tell you what to say and how to act (Matt. 10:16ff).
 Don’t fear those who kill you; fear God, who has the power to throw you into hell (Luke 12:4,5).
 Then this translation of the following verses (by Eugene Peterson in
The Message: the great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God’s authority over  you and presence with you (Matt. 10:17-20).
5. Hold your (Non-violent) Ground when Zealots Take up Arms against You
Jews, Muslims and Christians (to name but a few religionists), have long been willing to do violence to “infidels”, and wrong-doers. (But let’s not forget that more “secular” leaders have taken moremillions of lives in the 20
th
 century than all the wars of religion have taken in previous centuries). Yet Jesus refused to take up the sword and insist on the rightness of his view of things; and he forbade Peter from using the sword too. (Now we know that the state, as embodied by Pilate or Constantine, is given the power of the sword; it appears here that Jesus refused to give that power to his followers). He also refused to excommunicate Judas, even though he was quite certain of Judas’ treacherous intent.Followers of Jesus are grateful for law-enforcement officials who identify wrong-doers and “bringthem to justice” through an independent court system. It’s when we “followers of Jesus” get wedded to the State’s preoccupation with “national security” that we leave “The Way” of the Master. The “Way” of speaking truth to power without being backed up by military might, is still Jesus’ way. Herod and Pilate 3
 
will always isolate, exclude, fight against and destroy real or perceived “enemies” of the State. That is “the way” of the world.That Jesus died because he was a threat to the cozy coalition between the Sanhedrin and the Romans stands as a lesson for us, that if we tread a non-violent Way, we may not be immune from a violent end.A lesson from South Africa is that civil war and racial bloodbath can be averted when victims face other victims and share unexpected generosity in forgiving their tormentors, both white and black, oppressed and oppressor, painful though it may be.Marlin Vis (on the ground in East Jerusalem), tells the stories of Rami Elchanan (an Israeli father) and Aziz (a Palestinian father). Each has lost a son or daughter to “extremists” in the fighting there. Rami lost his daughter in 1997 when two Palestinian suicide bombers blew themselves up in Ben Yehuda Square, one of the most popular gathering places in West Jerusalem. Israeli soldiers literally beat Aziz’s  brother to death. Here is what these two fathers now say. Rami, the Israeli, says:
 After the 7-day mourning period was over and the thousands of supporters left, I was faced with two choices: I could  seek revenge , ‘an eye for an eye,’ or I could avenge my daughter's death by working to end this foolish  shedding of blood. I chose to work for peace and reconciliation. If I kill someone else, does that bring her back? NO! So I will not seek to kill, but rather I will seek to save.
Aziz, the Palestinian, says:
 For most of my life I learned how to hate. Then I went to a Hebrew class and in the class I was forced to speak to my classmates who were Jewish. I found that I had a lot in common with some of them, that I even liked them. One of them loved country music, something I could never hope to find in the Palestinian community. Then I was faced with two choices: I could continue to  feed my hatred toward the Jewish people, or I could let myself love them. I chose love.
Yet, these two men are brothers bound together by shared pain and loss. They clearly love each other and want something better for their part of the world than what they now have. The good news is that they believe it can happen. They work to make it happen. And they refuse to give up hope that one day it will happen. The organization they work with is called “Bereaved Families Supporting Peace, Reconciliation & Tolerance." What they do for the cause of reconciliation is staggering, and yet Rami said:
 It is like trying to take water out of the sea with a tiny spoon that has holes in it. Still we keep trying.
Here is a modern example of “enemies” who have found a way to be in intimate communion and agreement. Will it take tragic losses to bring warring parties together?Bishop Chane gave a brief mediation at the Christmas Eve service at the National Cathedral in 2007. He told the story of the Bishop of the Sudan gathering with Jesus’ followers in his cathedral to  pray. The service was interrupted by child soldiers from the Janjaweed (sp), brandishing their automatic weapons. They marched him and the other clergy out of the sanctuary and ordered them to kneel. The fifteen year old leader of the band pointed the AK-47 at the head of the Bishop and declared: “Today, I will kill you. Would you like a cigarette before you die?” “No,” replied the Bishop, “but I would like a moment to pray”. “Would you like a blindfold?” “No, that will not be necessary.” Kneeling down he began to pray: “I thank you God that I know where I am going this day. Pleaseforgive this man for what he about to do, so he can join me in due time; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”4
 
The young thug dropped the gun, took the Bishop by the hand, looked into his face and said, “I want what you have”.The Evangelist John has Jesus remind his followers that the world will hate us because we do not live on the world’s terms (John 15:18ff). Yet it is when we love God and one another through our tears that the hateful world comes to God and comes to us. When suffering love lifts outstretched arms high ona cross, the whole world is drawn to him. That is how Jesus lived, and that is how Jesus died. And that is how we are to deal with our enemies as well. So help us God.5
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