The spokesperson for the Abbey says
“Nor would it have done anything to support the desperately oppressed Christian communities of the Middle East for whom we pray constantly and publicly.”Which, by a remarkable coincidence, is exactly the same as what the late King Abdullah has done for the oppressed Christian communities of the Middle East. Although, to be fair, he did rule a country where conversion was punishable by death, and churches were illegal. But still, tact in all things, eg?
Saudi isn't just a nasty country to Christians, of course. Women who are raped, if they report it, are in severe danger of being sentenced to flogged for adultery. King Abdullah did, however, commute sentences of crucifixion to beheading. The old wet liberal.
But just as Abdullah was on his deathbed, the attention of many was drawn to the blogger, Raif Badawi, and his horrific sentence. They've currently suspended the flogging until he gets well enough to be flogged some more. Which I suppose is a sort of kindness.
And Raif Badawi draws me to the Conversion of Paul. Saul, as he was known before adopting his new first name, was no stranger to the arts of brutal execution. Revelled in them. Got permission to wander freelance round the Middle East trying to murder Christians. But then, as he's wandering along:
" Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."It's that identification of Jesus with the persecuted Church. Jesus also tells us of a judgement where it's discovered that however you treat the weak, the poor, the imprisoned - that's how you have treated Jesus. And the interesting thing is that, in that judgement, it doesn't seem to matter what your religion is, or what you believed, whether you were a Semi-Pelagian, Muslim or worshipper of Native American spirits - or that of those you met. It tells us that you responded to Jesus through the way you treated those weaker than you - because Jesus was those people. A terrifying thought to those of us who idle our winter days by the fire knowing there are homeless on the streets of London.
But what if that means that the Jesus who was himself brutally flogged - so much so that it reduced the time it took for him to die on a cross from days to a few hours - what does it mean if somebody responsible for a judicial flogging on political/religious grounds (basically, oppression) gets to the big throne at the End of Days, and sees Raif Badawi sitting there on the throne? Doesn't this mean that our tortured, brutalised, humiliated King of Kings is in everyone who is unjustly punished and cruelly treated, from Abel son of Adam to St Stephen to Jan Huss to the 6 Million of the Holocaust to Maximilian Kolbe to Aung San Suu Kyi to the raped Bosnian Muslim women to - it would now appear - Haruna Yukawa?
Paul chose to follow the One he'd persecuted. He lived like him, suffered like him, and died for him. Christians and others across the world - including Jews, atheists and Muslims - suffer for opposing totalitarian and intolerant regimes and societies. Mostly Christians, at the moment, but that's been different in the past.
Maybe when we all get to that judgement seat, we'll all see those persecuted of the world sat there. And we'll all be challenged - were we active oppressors, were we quietly compliant? Did we kick up a fuss? Did we write letters, complain, boycott? Did we use the economic and political power we had, or did we just keep quiet, and grateful for the military support or the oil?
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." Will we know him, when we see him?