Yesterday the world held its breath while events unfolded in Sydney. Now the siege is over, the investigations will begin. We shall probably need to revise some of the more ill-informed pronouncements of the media (you may have noticed that the gunman was variously described as a Shia extremist, a Sunni extremist, a terrorist, and so on). But this morning two things stand clear: the need to pray for the dead and injured, including those who have been deeply traumatised by the event; and to salute the #illridewithyou movement which gathered momentum throughout the day and showed how, in the midst of the most terrible circumstances, ordinary Australian people refused to give in to hatred and fear. No one wants to talk in terms of ‘victory’ or ‘defeat’ on such occasions, but in this instance they were the real victors of the Sydney siege: decent people having the courage to stand up for human values.
Sadly, not everyone was prepared to follow their example. I was saddened to find a few people churning out the kind of hate-filled rhetoric that actually fuels terrorist violence. What grieved me most were those who claimed to do so as Christians. The irony of preparing to welcome the Prince of Peace this Christmas and spewing out hatred of others, in this case Muslims, seems to have been lost on them.
Today’s first Mass reading, Zephaniah 3, reminds us how easy it is to strut on God’s holy mountain; to convince ourselves of our own superiority. We may think we have a monopoly of righteousness, like the chief priests and elders of today’s gospel (Matt 21.28-32), but then the tax collectors and prostitutes come along and put us in our place — outside the Kingdom. It is a sobering thought. If today we are tempted to harbour bitter or angry thoughts towards anyone, but especially towards our Muslim neighbours, let us think again. Sometimes, to be really brave, one has to accept being thought a coward. Sometimes, to follow Jesus, one has to be prepared to abandon the herd and just do what is right and proper.