In the early hours of Sunday morning, Omar Mateen entered a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, opened fire, and killed 49 people, injuring 53 more. The shooting is the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.
Mateen, 29, was a US citizen born in New York and living in Fort Pierce, Florida. After his first round of shooting inside the club, Mateen exchanged fire outside the club with an officer on duty, then went back into the club where he took hostages. Around 5 a.m. a SWAT team stormed the building to rescue the hostages, during which they shot and killed Mateen.
A clear motive has yet to emerge. Mateen himself called 911 and professed allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State, though authorities believe Mateen had no real connections to the group. His ex-wife has claimed that he was mentally ill, and his father has suggested that Mateen hated gays. A survivor of the shooting said that Mateen talked about wanting America to “stop bombing my country”—possibly referring to his father’s homeland, Afghanistan. Still other evidence suggests Mateen may have lashed out because of his own conflicted sexuality. The search for clarity continues.
While the media has focused a lot of attention on the shooter, many ordinary citizens have rallied to provide for the victims, especially those injured and hospitalized. Across central Florida, many people turned out to donate blood, so much so that donation centers had to ask people to come back later. Others have spontaneously written encouraging notes, created homemade cards, donated water, and even free diapers and printing services—whatever they have to offer.
Many victims of the Orlando shooting are members of the LGBT community, which has often had a strained relationship with Christians and the Church. For that reason, some Christians are watching this news unfold and feeling disconnected from them and their stories. Others are wondering what they could offer that would be of any value. Still other Christians are choosing to keep their distance.
Jesus recognizes these many different responses. He knows that different people will desire to respond in different ways. Yet Jesus consistently encouraged people to respond with compassion. One of his most famous parables did just that. Like Christians and the LGBT community, Jews and Samaritans had a strained relationship, sometimes even flaring up into hatred. But the story Jesus told discarded these tensions and disagreements in favor of compassion and life—values that transcend our disagreements.
Check out Jesus’ famous parable from Luke 10. What do you have to offer to the people you know?
Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”
He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”
He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”
Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
“A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”
“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”