Reflecting on the Events of 9-11 Nine Years Later – The Power of Jesus’ Forgiveness – Part 2

Primary Intended Audience – My local Christian context.
Secondary Intended Audience – Christians and anyone interested in seeing this through the Christian lens.

As the events of September 11th unfolded, I was in a church staff meeting. We were conference calling and the person on the other side of the phone was watching television and at first said, “Oh wow, a plane hit the Twin Towers.” Like many, we assumed that it was a small plane. As our meeting continued, the person exclaimed, “Another one just hit!” And so began hours of watching television, listening to the radio and of course, reading websites (bear in mind, the internet was a bit different 9 years ago). Then the Pentagon, then a crash somewhere in Pennsylvania, planes still unaccounted for and we were gripped by fear that imagined endless possibilities. i had family relatives in Tower 1 – an aunt and a cousin. My phone rang from a man in our church who was frantic – one of his closest friends was on the 57th floor of one. The phone rang again and a friend from college told me his father worked inside and wanted me to pray for him. When the Towers fell, which seemed so unimaginable to me, the hope of my prayers seemed to dissipate. It would not be for hours until I heard from my mom that our relatives were ok, and that my friends’ loved ones had also survived. But by then, the body count was adding up and the joy of survival was personal relief in the midst of national suffering.

In addition to the surrealness of the day, as details unfolded of the attackers, I clearly remember feeling angry and that feeling would go through different stages directed at different people and populations for quite a while. In addition to being an American, my family is Egyptian, Christian-Egyptian in fact. My parents, grandparents and family ancestry have suffered extensive persecution at the hands of Muslims (extremists and nominal nationalists) for centuries. I felt that I could not escape the anger and as I mentioned yesterday’s post that it was not until the 5 year anniversary that I realized that this anger had a control over me. It was a complicated anger for a number of reasons but primarily in some sense, not remaining angry felt disloyal to my family, unpatriotic and even somehow unChristian.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog the beauty of forgiveness and the liberation experienced as a result. But how is this possible in this case; was it even appropriate? Eventually I started realizing that not forgiving the terrorist gave an exception in Jesus’ mandate of not just showing love to everyone but to loving our enemies. This is where the life of Jesus offers us a great deal of relevance. Had the story of Jesus ended prior to His crucifixion, I may have found the exception or the “loophole” in loving our enemies. Jesus clearly had enemies. One could make a case that he did not always show compassion to them. Among numerous feuds and confrontations, He called them snakes, fools, hypocrites and “white-washed tombs”. It was not until His death, when He felt the furthest from the Father, that He asked Him to forgive them, “for they know not what they do.”

Could I/we have a higher standard of forgiveness than Jesus? It seemed relevant to ask what were the consequences of having an admittedly lower standard of forgiveness? At the risk of sounded sacrilegious, what were the ramifications of wallowing in our suffering and limitations of humanity and being content on hating those who persecute us and quietly despising those who did not defend us? Why not punt the ball of forgiveness away and retreat into a defense posture? Franky, it seemed almost natural.

Around the five year mark, I began to untangle my patriotism from my loyalty to the Kingdom of God. Let me be clear here – this is not to say that I loved America any less. In fact, as the years have passed, I am only more grateful for my country and to my parents for immigrating here. I still grieve these horrific events and still despise evil (though it’s a larger scope than I ever realized and it’s not just the evil of the jihadist but includes my own and everything in between). But as I began to understand what it meant to follow Jesus, my greatest allegiance is to God. As I unpackaged that (and believe me there’s a long sermon here), I began to see God’s love for the world, despite its evil and flawed desperation and of course, I began to see my own failures, sin and pride. God seemed to be the only one who had anything worthy to offer.

I began to really wrestle with the idea, “Is Jesus really Lord of it all?” or is that a sentiment expressed so that I can force His divine hand to bring blessings to my life, family and nation? Further, I began to see that these claims of loving our neighbors, loving our enemies, and forgiving them was only possible if Jesus really was Lord. When Jesus teaches his the crowd in the Sermon of the Mount in Matthew 5 and tells his followers to turn the other cheek and walk the second mile, there is a context that I needed to realize. Commentators will say that the attackers were not their neighbors but most likely, the Roman soldiers. In an effort to keep this post only moderately long, Roman rule mandated that a soldier could force someone to carry their gear (the term ‘mile’ is used for our sake). Often this was another humiliation that the Jews endured from the occupying Romans. Until then, the Jews felt that they needed to either fight back or wallow in this persecution. But Jesus’ words frees them.

By offering the other cheek and by offering to volunteer to walk the second mile for the enemy, you have freed yourself from their oppression. They are no longer in control because of the willingness to respond in love to retaliate not with anger or violence but in humility. To say it in first person, “When I walk the second mile for you, my enemy, it is to demonstrate that you do not control me, I am not afraid of you, i would willingly do this for a friend and I am willingly doing it for you.”

Some have adapted Jesus’ words such as:
“Am I not destroying my enemies when I make a friend of them?” – Abraham Lincoln
“I will never let another man ruin my life by making me hate him” – George Washington Carver
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” – Martin Luther King

I want to also include the utmost importance of the resurrection of Jesus for it is the greatest announcement of life. “I have come to bring life to the full.” It is life now and forever and it knows no bounds. Let others promise the absurdity of perpetual virgins, food, drink and carnal pleasures (a heavenly Playboy mansion if you will), I’d rather know the presence of God. Death is what the terrorists have threatened us with, fear is their emotional ammunition that suffocates hope. How fitting that Jesus comes to bring life and faith is not only the shield against fear but also the sword to destroy it making it possible for us to hope again and still not be foolish.

On Saturday night, I showed this video that was arranged by 9-11 pictures and had Bruce Springsteen’s “My City of Ruin” from The Rising album. Honestly, I don’t really like most of these types of videos (overly dramatic and emotionally manipulative many times) but this one is beautiful.

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