His name was Prevaiz Masih. He was the janitor at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan, until Oct. 20. On that day, two suicide bombers attacked, one on the women’s side and the other on the men’s side of the campus.
An attacker dressed as a woman shot the school security guard then approached the women’s cafeteria where Masih was working. Masih intercepted him at the door and told him that he could not enter because there were women inside. The two argued, and the attacker detonated his bomb outside the cafeteria killing Masih. Three women were also killed, but many more would have died had Masih not met the attacker at the door.
Prevaiz Masih was a Christian. Standing in the cafeteria doorway, he was protecting the lives of between 300 and 400 young Muslim women. “Despite being Christian, he sacrificed his life to save the Muslim girls,” said Professor Fateh Muhammad Malik, rector of the university. I cannot help but wonder if maybe it was because he was Christian that Masih acted to protect those women. What if he did what he did not in spite of his Christian faith, but because of his Christian faith?
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells this parable:
As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’ When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’ He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’ Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities.’ Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’ He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds.’) ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.'”
From time to time someone will say to me, “Preacher, we need to run the church like a business.” I am inclined to agree with those folks, especially when I read this parable.
The slaves in the story are given money. The nobleman who gave them the money expected them to do something with it. The expectation was real. The message was clear; take this money and do something with it.
I believe Jesus told this story, at least in part, to teach us that we have been given something and we are expected to do something with it. If I remember correctly, Clarence Jordan suggested that money is not the currency of the Kingdom of God. Ideas, convictions and principles are.
Jesus says to us take this idea of grace out into the world and trade with it. Take this notion of mercy out into the marketplace and do business with it. Set up shop and stock the shelves with justice, compassion, love, understanding, acceptance, peace and forgiveness. Do business with these ideas.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, Prevaiz Masih had been given these same ideas. He possessed the currency of the Kingdom. I do not know if he was thinking about his faith when the attacker showed up. Was he asking himself the question, “What would Jesus do?” I do not know.
He had just started the janitor’s job making barely $60 a month. He lived with seven other family members in a crowded, one-room apartment. By our standards, he did not have much. Yet he had compassion. With compassion for those who would be harmed, even killed, he acted to protect them. Many are alive today who would have been dead if Masih had not done what he did.
Thankfully, we will rarely, if ever, have the need to practice our faith in such a dangerous environment. But we should not let the relative safety and security that we enjoy keep us from offering what we have been given to those who have need of it. We, who have been given grace and forgiveness, might seek out those who are hungry for it. We, who have experienced compassion and mercy, might seek to give that experience to others. We, who have found acceptance and hope, might point the way for others who are still searching.
Not many people in Pakistan expected a Christian to act on behalf of the safety of a room full of Muslims. Masih’s action surprised a number of people in his country. What unexpected act can you do that might cause someone to look at Jesus in a new light?
Ed Sunday-Winters is senior pastor of Ball Camp Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. He blogs at Just Words.
Ed Sunday-Winters is pastor of Greensboro United Church of Christ in Greensboro, Vermont.