During the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs exploded, killing 3 people and injuring an estimated 264 others. Analysts from the FBI combed over surveillance video and released the images of two suspects—brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. A massive manhunt ensued to find these terrorists. A gunfight in the streets of a Boston suburb resulted in the death of Tamerlan, while the police apprehended the other brother later. Since the brothers were Muslims, their religion dictated that the body of Tamerlan should be buried in a white shroud within 24 hours of death. However, because of the public outrage created over the bombing, no cemetery was willing to bury the body of Tamerlan.
That’s when Martha Mullen stepped in to help. Mullen said she was at a Starbucks when she heard a radio news report about the difficulty finding a burial spot for Tamerlan. Mullen, a committed Christian, said, “My first thought was Jesus said ‘love your enemies.’” Then she had an epiphany, "I thought someone ought to do something about this–and I am someone." Mullen placed several phone calls and found a Muslim cemetery in Virginia that would accept the remains of Tamerlan.
As you might imagine, Mullen was scorned and vilified by angry protestors. Despite the persecution, Mullen told a reporter from NPR, “Jesus tells us in the parable of the Good Samaritan to love your neighbor as yourself. And your neighbor is not just someone you belong with but someone who is alien to you. If I'm going to live my faith, then I'm going to do that which is uncomfortable.”1
The example of Martha Mullen living out her faith just goes to show the radical nature of the Gospel. Extending grace to those that have wronged us goes totally against human nature and the desire for retaliation. But grace is the only thing that can stop the cycle of hate and show a supernatural alternative.
In Romans 12:25 Paul wrote, “To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” What did Paul mean with that strange imagery? The phrase “heap burning coals upon his head” referred to an ancient Egyptian custom. When a person wanted to demonstrate public contrition, he would carry on his head a pan of burning coals to represent the burning pain of his shame and guilt.2 The point being that when show grace to an enemy we are more apt to lead him to repentance over his evil deeds than if we return with uppercut of revenge.
We live in a world of un-grace so when we show Christ-like love to an enemy it seems so scandalous. That’s because grace is God’s way of disarming hostile hearts. Grace eradicates the virus of hate, baffles our enemies, defies logic, breaks down barriers and produces tears of repentance. Unmerited, undeserved, unexpected, grace is God’s most intoxicating fragrance to woo sinners to Himself. As Gordon MacDonald said, “The world can do almost anything as well or better than the Church. You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.”3
1. Audie Cornish, "The Search Is Over: Boston Bombing Suspect Has Been Buried," NPR News, All Things Considered, 10 May 2013, <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=182938654> accessed 15 October 2013.
2. John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1994), 203.
3. Gordon MacDonald, quoted by Philip Yancey, What's So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 15.