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Jesus Suffers with Us in Our Pain

Joe Cumming, a fellow of the Faith and Culture Center at Yale, has a special interest in respectful Christian witness to Muslims, among whom he lived for many years. Joe once had the opportunity to meet with the Lebanese Ayatollah, one of the most influential Muslim clerics in the Arab world. It was the day before the holiest day of the year for Shiite Muslims, so it was like asking for an audience with the Pope on Christmas Eve.

The sheik's secretary said Joe could only have five minutes—and at four minutes and fifty-five seconds, he should be standing to leave. As Joe prayed hard about what he could say, he saw a banner across the road that read in Arabic, "The victory of blood over the sword." This meant that when the enemies of Muhammad's grandson Hussein came to kill him, he could have called on God to kill them. Instead, he laid down his sword and was massacred, becoming a sign of forgiving the sins of others. So, when the Ayatollah asked Joe what he had to say, Joe said, "Doesn't that banner mean that Hussein won a greater victory by laying down his life?"

"Yes," said the sheikh, "that's what it means."

"That's what I believe about Jesus," said Joe Cumming. "He could have killed his enemies, but instead he laid down his life for them in love, and prayed for their forgiveness. I believe that is the key to break the cycle of violence and revenge in the world."

The Ayatollah turned to his followers and said, "I totally agree with every word this Christian man of God has just said."

Joe stood to leave. His five minutes were up. "Where are you going?" said the sheikh. "There's more I want to talk about."

He kept Joe for two hours.

At one point the Ayatollah brought up the death of two little boys on the West Bank, killed by a misfired missile as they played soccer. "What do you have to say about this as a Christian?" he asked.

Joe replied, "I look at the suffering of all innocent victims through the lens of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. I might wonder at times if God has abandoned the human race. But in the suffering of Jesus Christ, I see the sign of God's solidarity with all innocent victims of violence and suffering."

The sheikh turned again to his followers and said, "I agree with every word this Christian man of God has just said." What a powerful thing to be able to say, in light of the cross, "If Christ be for us, who can be against us?"

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