… AND THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE.
This year, the word that comes to me as I reflect on the events of the past 12 months is ‘love’, and so my Christmas message this year revolves around this word. The essence of our Christian faith is love. The greatest lesson to be distilled from the Bible is that of love. One of the most quoted verses of the Bible in John 3:16 lays the foundation of our faith: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
As Christians, we are enjoined to love. Indeed the first four of the 10 commandments are about loving God and the remaining six, loving our neighbours. When asked to name the greatest commandment, Jesus said “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40] If humans would base their words and deeds on these two commandments, many of the strife and conflict we see in the world would not exist. It is truly as simple as this.
However, humans tend to be too ‘intelligent’ to accept and practise simple truths. People are motivated by base instincts such as greed, fear, jealousy and hate, and many, imprisoned by ignorance, are unable to break free of these destructive and crippling strongholds in their minds and hearts. Acts of atrocities – killing of innocent men, women and children - are committed in the name of religion in many parts of the world. Christians have been guilty of this – the crusades were fought in the name of God. Today, terrorist groups such as ISIS and the Taliban feature in the news daily, stoking fear and loathing in many. In our own country, the minority Christians feel under seige by groups such as Perkasa and Isma and the extremists in UMNO Baru, who claim to be the protectors of Malays and Islam against threats that only exist in their minds. The fallout from the ‘Allah’ issue continues, despite the assurances by the authorities that the court decision is confined to The Herald. Our constitutional right to freedom of religion is being trampled on, even by those who are meant to uphold those rights. Religion is being used as a tool by the desperate in the quest for power, playing on the fears of the Muslims.
These are challenging times for Christians in Malaysia. There are those who say we should ‘turn the other cheek’ each time we are insulted and victimised whilst there are others who feel that our heads will fall off if we carry on turning our cheeks after every slap.
How should we respond to those who offend and insult us? Should we trade insults for insults and hatred for hatred? Whilst we may be filled with righteous anger, we must also remember the teaching of Jesus that we must be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves [Matthew 10:16]. To me, that means speaking up against wrongdoings and injustice, and never compromising on the truth, but doing so in a non-violent way. Violence is to be abhorred. When Peter cut off the ear of a slave of the high priest at the time Jesus was being arrested, he was rebuked by Jesus, who said, "Put back your sword, for those who take up the sword will surely perish by the sword." [Matthew 26:52] Even as he was dying on the cross, Jesus did not speak of revenge, retaliation or retribution. Instead his last words were spoken out of love for those who killed him: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” [Luke 23:34] A lesson to be learnt here is that when other people see us as their enemies, we do not have to see them as ours. We are called to love those who persecute us and to pray for them.
I am thankful that Malaysians have never retaliated with violence when baited by those who committed acts of desecration and disrespect against their faiths. Malaysian Christians as well as those of other faiths have been praying for a return to the days of peaceful co-existence and mutual respect amongst the various races and religions of this country. This Christmas season, I am doubly thankful that groups of our Muslim brothers and sisters have been moved by compassion and love for Malaysia and her people to speak up for tolerance and moderation in this country, and that many more Malaysians have added their voices to this call. Truly, we are a nation of diverse but peace-loving and harmonious people but we have let a small group of misguided intolerant rabble-rousers shout too loudly for too long. They do not represent the majority of Malaysians. This week, I see a glimmer of hope and a promise of better days to come.
Christmas is a time for us to commemorate the birth of Jesus, the personification of God’s love for us. This Christmas, let us all remember that love is an action, and not just an emotion. In the words of Augustine of Hippo: ‘Love and say it with your life’.
I wish all Christians a Blessed Christmas and to all, a Happy New Year.
CHAIRMAN, PKR SARAWAK/
ADUN N70 BA’KELALAN