Stretch out your hand
Again he entered the synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand.They watched him closely to see if he would cure him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up here before us.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.
This account of Jesus healing the man with the withered hand was so significant to the early Christians that it appears in all four of the gospels. The nub of the story is not about the treatment for an affliction, but rather the absolute importance of mercy before mandate.
In the ancient world, most societies had rigid social structures in which being around, let alone doing something for members of the “lesser” classes was a shocking and revolutionary act. Hence the calls to put Jesus to death.
This rigidity, which is as much a product of fallen human nature as it is certain culture momentums, still persist today in the Middle East. For example, most Westerners are unaware that within the Islamic world there is such a pronounced and pervasive dislike of Christians that Muslims are urged not to eat tomatoes. Why? When sliced in half, the tomato “reveals” the cross, and therefore, tomatoes are “Christian.” True story.
In 2014 when I launched the Picture Christians Project, my first trip to the Middle East took me to the Kingdom of Jordan. While there, I not only visited with Assyrian Christian refugees, but I had a chance to see the ongoing revolutionary act that is the Christian life.
Despite the very real fact that Muslims in the Middle East are taught to hate Christians, there are Christians, like the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, who make it their life’s work to serve those same Muslims.
In the city of Zarqa, Jordan, the Sisters run a health clinic for mothers and children, serving the people there regardless of religion or, as in many cases, an ability to pay for treatment.
Located about 50 miles north by northwest of Amman, Zarqa is a dirty, industrial city. It was the hometown of Abu al-Zarqawi, the founder of ISIS. It also hosts a very large Palestinian refugee camp and is full of members of the Muslim Brotherhood. In short, it is one of the least hospitable places to be a Christian. Despite all that, the Sisters stay and work in Zarqa (by choice), living out Christ’s command of “as the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).
“Anywhere that Christianity takes root becomes a better place.”
I spent several days photographing in the clinic and was not wholly welcomed by the Muslim women who were treated there. I did have the opportunity to speak with some of them and they told me that they prefered coming to the Sisters’ clinic instead of the state-run health facilities in the city; the care was better and the Sisters were kinder. For their part, the Sisters told me that within the clinic they were treated well by those they served, but out on the streets of Zarqa, they were often spat at and called “kafir,” or “unbeliever.” These women are some of the bravest and kindest people I have ever met.
Because of Christ’s mandate to love our fellow human being, this greatest of all commandments, there is nothing to compare, in any of the world’s religions, to the selfless millions of Christian men and women who have spread out across the globe to bring food, shelter, help and health to those who need it. In most instances, as with the Dominican Sisters in Zarqa, this self sacrifice is given without expectation of conversion or even recognition – As Christians, these Dominican Sisters help the world in which they live because they love the people who live in it.
This “mad love” is at the heart of the Christian faith and is not found in any comparable proportion in any other religion. Not Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or any other of the faiths of the planet. To point this out does not diminish or demean other faiths. It does, however, point up their shortcomings where love and mercy for the human condition is concerned.
Our self-proclaimed “tolerant” society winces when one points out this fact. This reaction is both an indication of how little most people understand their own intolerance as well as their ignorance concerning the role that Christianity has played in their Western heritage.
This intolerance is not merely grievous, it is dangerous. Presently we are being pulled down into the mud that we are made of by a whole host of Pharisaic ideologues. From a medical industry which would terminate a doctor or nurse for promoting smoking during pregnancy, but rewards the same for more efficiently chopping up baby, to the mediaites and academics who, though they profess to hold the keys to the towers of truth, will not acknowledge acts of Islamic terror for what they are, despite the Islamic State’s pleading that they do so. Our present premeditated state of ignorance has placed us all in grave danger.
What are we to do?
Anywhere that Christianity takes root becomes a better place. The Christian faith is the antidote to the hardening of the human heart and the resulting barriers that it creates. We should note, however, that an idea or an action is only as effective as those who carry it.
If we want peace in our lives, our communities, our nation and our world, then we should embrace the Christian faith, beginning with this simple, selfless Christian formula: People before process, individuals before ideologies and deeds before doing.