The death of 11 people in the synagogue in Pittsburgh last week was an unspeakable crime against people unarmed and innocent. Most of the people who died were elderly, one person as old as 97, all were simply attending their synagogue to pray and to listen to the scriptures.
Today we are linked to those people because we likewise are listening to the Jewish scripture that would have been known to them. The passages that we have been listening refer to Dt 6: 6-9 and Leviticus 19: 18. These passages place on the Jewish people a daily duty to honour God and to love their neighbour.
How cruel it seems that people who have made their life’s work to love God and to love their neighbour that their life is ended in such a way. A person came against them filled not with love but rather filled with hate and anger.
We live in a world in which crimes based in hate are escalating. There seems already evidence the man who did these crimes spent much of his time saying online and to anyone who would listen to him how much he hated the Jewish people, until chillingly his hate turned to violence. He entered the synagogue with the intent of killing those defenceless, elderly men and women.
He is only one person amongst many whose crimes feed off hate of people based on hatred for the colour of their skin, their nationality, the religion that they profess or whatever.
There is also hatred for people based on their sexual orientation. In the month of October we marked the 20thanniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, a 21 year old student at Wyoming university in USA who was taken by 2 young people and beaten and left for dead propped up on a fence. He died several days later from the wounds inflicted on him.
The cruelty of the crime woke people up to the danger of hate crimes, hate rhetoric, hate actions. In the light of the death of Matt Shepard, President Obama passed federal legislation against crimes of hatred.
It’s not difficult to see that it’s a short walk to think hate, to talk hate to doing things that are violent against people that you claim to hate. How many disputes based on hate have led to injury and death?
What we are hearing in these passages today is the absolute opposite of hatred. We are called onto love God and our neighbour. That kind of love expels hatred, has nothing to do with hatred, hatred is alien to anyone who seeks to love.
Hatred festers in dark corners of the mind and heart.
You would like to think that the words that we hear today are a warning against hate – love God, love your neighbour. It is the exact opposite of hate.
But be on your guard. Self righteous people very often think that they are bullet proof. That the think they don’t hate or are prejudice free.
The demons of hatred are in all of us.
The medicine for hatred is to love. The medicine for hate talk is kind words. The medicine for hateful thoughts are good thoughts.
Love is even more necessary in this world in which hate seems unchecked and unbounded.
If people would love then those people in the synagogue in Pittsburgh would still be alive. Matt Shepard would still be alive. Countless other people would still be alive. Hatred brings death. Love brings life.