Martin Place in Sydney is about as close to the heart of modern Australia as you can get. It’s a short sloping mall in the centre of our largest city. The Reserve Bank, Channel 7, and the Cenotaph major business and institutions vie for space. At the top are the NSW law courts and Parliament, and at the bottom is the busy shopping strip of George St. Down below trains rumble through the underground station. By day business people stride purposefully, shoppers throng, and tourists gawk, and by night the homeless and destitute seek shelter in alcoves and doorways.
Now Martin Place is known for something else, a terrible ordeal that strikes at the heart of our security as Australians. A man with a gun entered a shop and held 15 staff and customers hostage for 17 hours. Three are dead – a lawyer, the shop manager, and the gunman. The trauma, analysis, and repercussions will go on. Its ugly and it feels so wrong.
We have seen things like this before – Port Arthur Tasmania (1996), NCA Adelaide (1994), Hoddle St Melbourne (1986), and the Sydney Hilton (1978). Each time is as raw and painful as the last. Now there is the spectre of international terrorism, although the truth about that is not yet known. The gunman didn’t seem coordinated or tied in with any particular movement, but its early days yet.
Once the initial shock is over, how will we respond?
Our first response can be of deep sadness for those who have been traumatised and those who have died, as well as their families, loved ones, colleagues, and friends. The circles of pain will be profound, and will continue for many years. As a community and as individuals we should do what we can to support these people.
Another response can be of sincere gratitude for people, like the police, who put their lives at risk. When danger strikes they are there to protect us. Without their willing service we would not walk our streets with confidence. We thank God for the many who serve in this way.
Some people will want to be angry, and seek revenge wherever they can find it. This is the most damaging response. If we succumb to it, it will tear us apart from within. No one wins – not us, nor those on whom revenge is enacted. Anger will not make our society safer. It will only escalate the cycle of violence. If the Cronulla Riots of 2005 showed us anything, they showed us that.
The modern world is a much smaller place than it used to be. It is our duty to live together in this world as best we possibly can. People are still people. Each of us has the same need for security, shelter, and protection. Christian, Muslim, atheist, agnostic – God has placed us all here and not one of us has the right to exclude the other.
In his day Jesus Christ was also familiar with a pluralistic world. Religions and empires jostled for attention. Violence was commonplace. It was a dangerous world in which he taught a radical response, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43–45]NRSV])
Do not assume that the other person is your enemy – you might be surprised. Society, and we as individuals, will be judged by how we welcome the stranger, and how we protect the defenceless. This is a time for us to make a difference, and not just preach the love of Christ, but to practice it. The sad, bitter, devastating actions of a misguided man in Martin Place cannot stop us doing what we know has to be done. If the death and trauma he caused is to mean anything, let it make us stronger, more determined, and more ready to love and serve as God himself has served us.
Pastor John Henderson
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia
16 December 2014