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A few years ago, a movie named ‘Captain Phillips’ came out, which tells the story of an American merchant ship captain, whose container ship was boarded by Somali pirates in 2009 off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. It is based on a true story and indeed I vaguely remember when the actual events occurred, because the US navy, including a team of NAVY seals, got involved. It’s probably fair to say that the American Federal Government and their military are not very impressed when their citizens get kidnapped. This is doubly true of sailors: they tend to look after each other, so when an American captain of an American merchant ship gets kidnapped, the navy usually aren’t too happy about it.

One of the reasons this was such an impressive film is that on a couple of occasions during the film Captain Phillips offers first aid to his captors. Two of them have been injured in the attack on the ship. The main pirate has had his hand cut quite badly and another has severe cuts on his feet from broken glass on the ship. Even though they have attacked his ship, threatened his crew and kidnapped him, Captain Phillips offers to help them.

At one level, of course, he is simply being clever. If he can persuade his captors that he is a kind and considerate man, then they might be less likely to kill him if the operation goes pear-shaped. So, he’s being quite smart about it. However, it is more than that. He is actually sympathetic to his captors, because they are poverty stricken in Somalia, being used by their overlords to make as much money as possible by capturing ships, taking them back to Somalia, and demanding huge ransoms. The actual pirates are really just the pawns in Somalia, doing what their masters demand of them. Phillips has some sympathy for them and by being kind he is attempting to win their sympathy in return.

In addition, when someone does something like Captain Phillips offering first aid to his captors, it’s about doing things which are good and true and right. When we do things, which are good and true and right, we are being Christian in our actions. We are being children of light, as our reading St Paul refers to Christians (see Ephesians 5: 8–10). A similar thing occurred when Nelson Mandela invited his former jailors and prison guards to his inauguration as President of South Africa. When asked why he felt no resentment towards them he simply replied, “There is not enough time.” The same thing happened when Pope John Paul II met with the man who attempted to assassinate him, and forgave him. A similar thing occurred from time to time with WWII veterans, who met with their Japanese captors, for example, and forgave them.

The gift of Jesus to the world, a gift which Christians ever since have attempted to continue, is to love everyone, even one’s enemies. No one pretends that it is easy, but this is what it means to be children of light. The message of Christianity is a radical message of hope: hope that your enemies will not be your enemies forever.

The Reverend Dr Theo McCall
School Chaplain