|The Arabic letter "N"|
"But when then the Son of Man comes,
will he find faith on the earth?"
There seems to be a "zero tolerance" policy regarding use of the "N" word in the U.S. these days. The effective ban on this word seems appropriate given malingering racial tensions and tragic explosions of violence in recent months, not to mention an all-too real racism which still exists in the minds and hearts of many.
There is another "N" word, however, whose use seems to be drawing much less attention. Indeed, there seems to be a general indifference in the U.S. toward scores of people in the Middle East who are effectively being branded with a scarlet letter "N", then persecuted and slaughtered. As has been widely reported, the fascist Islamic State has been marking the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter "N", to identify them as followers the "Nazarene."
According to St. Jerome's commentary on the Matthew 2:23 reference, the title "Nazarene" fulfills no one isolated prophecy about Jesus, but rather it points to the general testimony of the prophets that the Messiah would be despised. So, is it ironic--or prophetic--that ISIS is helping to fulfill this prophecy even now? After all, as the Risen Christ made clear to Saul on the road to Damascus some twenty centuries ago, he is present in his followers: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:5).
Moreover, perhaps it is time to ask whether it is ironic--or prophetic--that radical secularism wants to stand by indifferently, even in the face of this effort to eliminate the despised Christians in the Middle East. After all, though secular fundamentalism claims to propose "tolerance" as one of its highest values, it seems to be rushing toward a "zero tolerance" policy for religious people, particularly Christians.
Religion is accused of being the source of tensions and evils in the world, and Christians are accused of being as violent as anyone else (despite facts to the contrary regarding religion and violence); meanwhile, radical secularism demonstrates an ever-greater tolerance for sacrificing the lives of the weakest in the name of some alleged "greater good." The innocent by-standers of drone bombings, the unborn and the elderly, migrants fleeing political and economic anarchy, incarcerated felons: For radical secularism, sometimes those who are most vulnerable need to die, in order that the strong can continue to thrive.
And Christians seem to be increasingly expendable, unless they too are willing to profess such a vision of "social progress."
So, given this state of affairs, would you mark yourself publicly with the sign of the Nazarene?
And what public show of solidarity with Christians in the Middle East would be appropriate? The U.S. Bishops have taken an active lead in calling for protection of Christians and humanitarian support for Syrian refugees in Turkey. Perhaps our prayers, fasting and almsgiving this Holy Week might be directed toward this pressing cause (the papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral support is the Catholic Near East Welfare Agency at www.cnewa.org, while www.crs.org continues to serve as the charitable agency of the U.S. Bishops on an international level).
The question of whether the Son of Man would find faith on the earth upon his return is not simply rhetorical: It is an existential question for each of us, in the face of whatever drives us to deny the Nazarene, or to ignore his ongoing plight among those suffering for his name. Ideologies and ideologues impose their will upon others. Jesus alone invites others to will what he wills, namely, the kingdom of God.
Faith in the Nazarene alone enables us to treat others as the ultimate "N" word demands--as Neighbor.