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Although Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center has now cancelled his plan to burn Qur’ans, the general outline of the situation as it unfolded over the last few days is disturbingly familiar. Here is yet another leader of a small religious fringe group who threatened to commit an extreme act unless his demands were met (meeting with the leaders of the Islamic cultural center in New York and/or negotiating its relocation). Change the details, and that could describe any number of terrorist groups rather than a Christian one.

 I don’t think we should be surprised that the 9/11 attacks, committed by those on the radical fringes of Islam, would elicit a mirror response from someone on the fringes of Christianity. The point is, Christians who vehemently disagree with Jones’s stance toward Islam and his plan to burn the Qur’an now know something of what most Muslims feel when terrorist acts are committed in the name of Islam.

 May such empathy help lay a foundation for understanding that leads to peace in the face of the fear and tension felt by so many around the country.

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I’ve just started Patrick Miller’s new book on the Ten Commandments. I’m still in the first chapter on the first and second commandments, but one of the aspects of the book I appreciate already is that, beyond merely explicating its meaning, Miller surveys how each commandment is picked up and used throughout the rest of the biblical literature beyond its appearance in Exodus and Deuteronomy.

For example, Miller notes that Jesus affirms the first commandment (“you shall have no other gods before me”) by quoting Deut. 6:13 when tempted by the devil to bow down and worship him: “The Lord your God you shall fear/worship; him [alone] you shall serve.” For Miller, the significance of this is that, even—or especially—as the Son of God, Jesus’ relationship to God is not marked by special privilege that exempts him from giving ultimate allegiance to God; rather, the opposite is true. For Jesus’ disciples, this means that

Following Jesus is not to replace the object of our worship but is a commitment to follow no other gods, however tempting they may be, and to worship the Lord your God and the Lord alone. Whatever identity is made between Jesus and God, whether in the language of “Son of God” or of “Lord,” the incarnate one embodies a faithfulness to the First Commandment that shows the way for all who follow him. (44)

I don’t think the significance of this can be overstated. The point can be made in many ways, but it’s especially obvious in the story of Jesus’ temptation: Jesus (and the early church) saw himself as being faithful to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Did God do something unprecedented in raising Jesus from the dead? Yes. But for those early Jewish Christians, Jesus’ resurrection meant not the beginning of a new religion but the affirmation of the faithfulness/righteousness of the God the Jews had known from of old.

As Christians learn to follow Jesus, we learn that we are part of a story that stretches back to and begins with God’s creative intentions for the world, and includes the way God chose a people to embody those intentions. If some of our earlier ancestors in the faith had remembered this, perhaps some of the tragic history of Christian anti-Semitism could have been avoided.

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