24 Oct, 2007 Transforming the Soul
One of the pinnacles of the Bible is the Sermon on the Mount. Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop, was an Australian who became famous for his leadership of prisoners of war on the Thai-Burma railroad. Jesus’ Sermon on the the Mount affected him profoundly.
He read it in a most unorthodox fashion. There was a great shortage of cigarette papers in the camp, and Weary was smoking his way through a Bible. He would memorize significant verses as he incinerated the pages. The Sermon on the Mount he kept until the very last. Indeed its simple but powerful message convinced Weary that he had to love his neighbour more than himself.
Although Dunlop experienced and witnessed the most appalling cruelty and degradation at the hands of the Japanese overseers, his daily choice was to affirm the humanity of all people. As he said “in suffering we are all equal”.
Dunlop was called by one of his men “a lighthouse of sanity in a universe of madness and suffering”. Although Dunlop was not an orthodox Christian, the words of Christ impacted his whole outlook. He decided to embrace the values of the Sermon on the Mount and simply to live them. One of the fruits of this was his life-commitment to build relationships between Australia and Asia.
Our society has been deeply impacted by the person and message of Jesus Christ. Our lives are much the better for it. There is a little of Jesus in all of us, one could say. Even a non-believer like Dunlop was transformed by the message of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.
The world is changing. Today, one might wonder what would have been the outcome if Dunlop had been smoking his way through a Qur’an instead of a Bible. Would he have found in those pages the same message of reconciliation and love for one’s enemies? Surely not, for the teachings of Christ are unique.
Mark Durie is the founding director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at the Melbourne School of Theology.