My sermon for this week was based on Matthew 22: 34-36.
To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.
Like everyone else, I have been deeply shocked and saddened by the events in Quebec and Ottawa this past week.
Like everyone else, I am left with one resounding and unanswered question: why?
Why did these men commit these heinous acts? What led them violence, to take innocent lives, to cast aside all semblance of human decency?
If you spent more than 5 seconds combing the internet in the days following these events, you will perhaps have been as disappointed as I was to see how willing people are to find an answer to that question, no matter how distasteful.
In the days following, people have blamed the fact that he was Muslim (even though this seems to be a recent conversion), that he was an immigrant (even though he was born in Canada), that he had a history of drug use, that he came from a broken home, etc, etc.
In the end, I don't think we will ever find an answer as to why these men abandoned their humanity, and I would certainly caution us from trying to find answers that are too easy.
In an interview on CNN, Reza Aslan, author of "Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" responds to the question, "Does Islam promote violence?". He answers that Islam, like Christianity, like Hinduism, does not promote violence. They do not promote peace, either. It depends on what you bring to the table. If you are inherently peaceful, your Islam, Christianity, etc. will be peaceful. If you are inherently violent, your Islam, Christianity, etc. will be violent.
The fact is that most ideologies, whether religious, secular, political or philosophical are no inherently violent or peaceful. It is how people wield those philosophies that will determine whether are violent or peaceful.
In the same sense, a hammer is not inherently violent or peaceful. It can be used to build a shelter, or to hit someone over the head. A gun can be used to procure food, or to cause harm to another human being.
These objects have no sense of good or evil. They are inanimate objects, and it is in how they are wielded that determines their nature.
In the Gospel passage for today, Jesus calls upon us to have certain words written on our hearts. When asked what is the most important commandment, he could have chosen from the 10 biggies, or one of the several hundred lesser ones scattered throughout mostly the Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
Instead of naming any of those laws, he quotes instead a passage in the Book of Deuteronomy, which bears repeating in its entirety: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates".
In other words, love God ALL THE TIME. Combined with an admonition in Leviticus to love your neighbour as yourself, this "Great Commandment" that Jesus issues in the Gospel for today calls us to love God and love your neighbour ALL THE TIME.
He is not merely calling us to act loving or to commit loving acts, but to actually love God and neighbour.
He is asking us to write the words of love, peace, justice, mercy and compassion on our hearts, where other words can so easily be written.
For example, if you really hated someone and wanted to kill them, but the only thing preventing you from doing so was fear of punishment if you were caught, does that actually make you a good person? Are you really comfortable with the very slender difference between wanting to commit an act and actually committing it? Because if you were otherwise willing and able to commit such an act, that means that hatred and murder are written on your heart.
Jesus is advising us to not even approach that precipice where hatred and murder can become written on our heart. He is advising us to write words of love on our heart instead.
In the end, the men that committed these acts simply had violence written on their hearts, and that is what they acted on.
Let us look on our own hearts to ensure better words are written there.