Reflection on Readings for
Year B, Easter 6
by John G Gibbs, PhD
A remarkable event, as described by journalist Peter Baker,
was reported on p. A01 of the Washington Post on April
4, 2003. That event is sequel to a wrong turn that an American
convoy made on March 23 south of Nasiriyah, Iraq.
The Army’s 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company had dispatched
this convoy into the desert to maintain and repair our fast-moving
invading tanks and personnel carriers. But the convoy made a
wrong turn, came under attack by Saddam’s Fedayeen militia,
sustained several casualties, 5 soldiers were captured, and
7 were missing in action.
PFC Jessica Lynch returned fire, but both her legs and one
arm were broken, and there was a fracture in her back, so she
was among the captured. Her captors took her to a hospital in
Nasiriyah. It is there that a 32-year old Iraqi attorney named
Mohammed found her when he stopped by to see his wife, a nurse
in that hospital.
Mohammed is a Shiite Muslim who noticed security guards at
the hospital, inquired why, and happened to look through a glass
interior window just when a black-clad Iraqi man was slapping
around this young woman American soldier. After the Iraqi attacker
left her, Mohammed sneaked in and said to Jessica: “Don’t worry,
don’t worry,” for he was going to get help.
He then walked 6 miles to find American marines, and to convince
them that he had really found this American prisoner of war.
The marines prevailed on him despite the grave danger to return
twice in 2 days to the hospital to reconnoiter the situation.
He found 41 Fedayeen there, and then drew 5 maps (and his wife
added another map) of the interior. Within 5 days of Mohammed’s
report and mapping of escape routes, a Special Operations force
under cover of darkness swooped down in Black Hawk helicopters,
quickly located Jessica Lynch, and spirited her away to one
of our field hospitals.
Why did Mohammed do it, despite the huge risks he took? Remembering
what he saw through the interior window, he said simply “My
heart is cut.” Later to the Marines who had also rescued Mohammed,
his wife and daughter, he added about Jessica Lynch: “She would
not have lived. It is very important.”
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life
for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Thankfully Mohammed’s life
was not taken when he risked everything for someone whom he
had never known, someone who was not even a friend but a stranger.
He is neither a Christian nor a Jew but a Muslim, who had deep
within him the truth that Jesus spoke: “No one has greater love
than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
The command to love bespeaks the structure of the universe.
The world was made in such a way that it depends on love. Neither
humanity nor the nature that supports us can survive unless
chaotic destruction be contained and reverse by those who invest
their lives for the sake of others. Jesus’ self-giving bears
fruit anew whenever one gives to another this greatest love.
All things are held together (Col. 1:17) by this commandment,
this order, this structure of existence: “that you love one
another as I have loved you.”
This kind of love is not an action that can be isolated or
set apart from any human relationship. Love is not confined
to interpersonal relations, though we may most readily recognize
some of its features there. Love is indispensable also for social
interactions, and even for forgiveness in politics. [See a recent
book on that by Donald Shriver. Instructive also is the in-depth
analysis by Paul Tillich, Love, Power and Justice (New
York: OUP, 1954).]
There is in Africa a social ideal called “Ubuntu.” In
the late 1980s and early 1990s Ubuntu defied prevailing
predictions of civil war and chaos breaking out in South Africa.
After the horrendous struggles between white and black cultures
within South Africa, and during the presidency of Nelson Mandela,
there was established (under the leadership of Anglican Archbishop
Desmond Tutu) the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its objective
was to air the ugly truth from all sides in such a way that
neither vengeance nor retribution was sought, but instead the
aim would be reconciliation. Amnesty was granted in exchange
for full disclosure. The repatriation that would concretely
express reconciliation has yet to be fulfilled, but the TRC’s
work is widely credited even so with having staved off catastrophe
by seeking Ubuntu.
The Constitution of South Africa includes recognition of “a
need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation
but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not for
victimization” [Anthony Sampson, Mandela (NY: Knopf,
1999), p. 521]. Ubuntu is a matter of love, for
it expresses interconnection, interdependence, compassion, and
mutual care. “A person is a person because of other people,”
is a saying that illustrates Ubuntu.
In his book about the TRC, Desmond Tutu writes: “A person with
ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others,”
and can live in that way “from knowing that he or she belongs
in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated
or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed…” [No
Future Without Forgiveness (NY: Doubleday Image Book, 1999),
Love relates. It breaches every wall of hostility. It cannot
be fenced in against its need to reach out and create relations.
As such, love relates humanity to nature with care and foresight.
Love motivates personal gardener and legislative body alike
to care for the earth, to guard against global warming, to nurture
species, and to safeguard the wealth of the creation for all
future generations of humans and other species.
The philosopher, and student of physics and mathematics and
botany, Holmes Rolston, III, is the 2003 recipient of the Templeton
Prize in Religion. Whether he has or has not heard the word
ubuntu, Rolston has lived it in relation to the natural
world no less than in relation to fellow human beings. “After
we learn altruism for each other,” he says, “we need to become
altruists toward our fellow creatures.” Further: “Plants
and animals have a good of their own, and that good is present
independently of human interests, concerns and affairs. Humans
can use nature as a resource, but we have a duty and an obligation
to respect and consider these intrinsic values.” [Reported by
The Ottawa Citizen, 3-20-03].
Holmes Rolston said this to the Templeton
Foundation: “I’m more convinced than ever that nature is
grace, that nature is value-laden. This life-abundant Earth
is a wonderland. But I’ll never argue my humanist philosophical
and theological critics into this conviction until they spend
more time in the back country.”
“No greater love…”