As a devout believer in Christ, on this day following Christmas, my thoughts turn to the cherished Biblical story of the humble Roman Centurion. Fearful for the life of his sick servant, he asked that the local religious leaders beseech Christ to heal him. As Jesus proceeded to the Centurion’s home in response, the Centurion had his friends meet Christ and say to him: “Lord trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.” This, the Centurion’s amazing reverence—for one who claimed himself to be the Son of God, the Messiah, and heir to David’s throne—was almost unique. Most of those around Christ disbelieved, some mocked, and some plotted his death. The Centurion’s deep humility and reverence were rewarded: “And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.”[i]
Christians, like Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus and other believers have great reverence and respect for the founders of their religions. They believe blessings here and a better life hereafter are made available by these holy persons. Because believers so devoutly reverence these central figures of their religions, it is obvious that they will be offended when those figures are subjected to vulgar abuse and ridiculed. In America, where free speech is so prized, people have a broad right to express offensive views. While courts have recognized that some insults are so blatant and offensive that they are “fighting words” and thus fall outside the Constitutional protection for free speech, it is a very narrow exception.[ii] The fact that we have a right to be offensive doesn’t make it right, however, any more than the ability to commit adultery makes adultery acceptable or the right to have an abortion makes abortion normal. Our right to disagree should not be expressed in terms that are deliberately offensive. Disrespect for others, while possibly entertaining, ultimately lessens respect for the speaker. It is difficult to respect those who deliberately insult the religious views of others.
Christians believe the God who created them came to earth to suffer immeasurable pain on their behalf in order to save them from their sins. He chose to be born in the humblest of circumstances and never sought nor obtained any earthly honors. There is the story of the young man who came to Christ, fell at his feet in worship, and asked what he must do to obtain eternal life. Christ, “loving him”, gave the young man an answer that was very direct but difficult to achieve. One thing that is so significant about the story is that the young man “went away grieved” because he could not bring himself to do what was asked.[iii] There is no hint that Christ intended to force this young man, or anyone, to do anything. Admittedly and sadly, some of the worst deeds done in human history have been motivated by religious beliefs, but Christ himself taught only that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”[iv] No one can justify the persecution of others based on what Christ taught.
May we who are Christians be more like the Centurion—genuinely feeing and expressing a deep reverence for Christ. May we all be respectful in our expressions regarding the founders of the other great religions of our day. And may our hopes and faith for a better world here and hereafter be realized.
[i] King James Bible, Luke 7:2-10
[iii] King James Bible, Mark 10:17-22
[iv] King James Bible, Matthew 25:40