Haaz Sleiman was born in the United Arab Emirates and grew up in Lebanon. He moved to the U.S. when he was 21 and has appeared in a variety of television roles. Now the Muslim actor is generating headlines with the news that he has been cast to play Jesus in the upcoming adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus. The movie will premiere on the National Geographic Channel in 2015, airing in 171 countries and 45 languages.
Some will likely object to a Muslim playing Jesus in a movie. But others will note the historical accuracy of casting a Middle Eastern actor rather than a Western Anglo for the role. In that sense, the announcement reminds us that our world is shrinking. As global travel and informational technology have accelerated, we know more about people in other parts of the world and can affect each other in new ways.
For example, the West African Ebola epidemic is making front-page news in Dallas, Texas, where I live. As you probably know, Thomas Eric Duncan died yesterday. He recently traveled from Liberia to Dallas, where he began manifesting Ebola symptoms and was hospitalized. This week is critical for our city, since enough time has passed that those in close contact with him could now become contagious if they were infected. Three additional local hospitals have set up special Ebola isolation units.
The virus is on everyone’s mind here. Tuesday night, a woman began vomiting on a flight from Dallas to Midland, Texas. While she didn’t have a fever and had not traveled to West Africa, she is being checked for the Ebola virus and fellow passengers will be monitored as well. And a high school student in Frisco, 25 miles north of Dallas, was recently arrested for posting a false news story on Twitter claiming that there were Ebola cases in his community.
I confess that I have not followed the Ebola story in West Africa as closely as the one in Dallas. But God loves Africans just as much as he loves Americans. Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew who died for “our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). His followers are members of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9).
Believers need to love each other and love our world as God does. For instance, Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas is the church home of Louise Troh, a woman with whom Thomas Duncan had a child in Liberia 16 years ago. The couple planned to get married before Ebola struck. Troh has been in quarantine ever since. George Mason, Wilshire’s pastor, recently brought her a Bible along with 100 notes written by church members. “Her face just lit up,” he says.
God’s people need to pray for Ebola victims wherever they are as if they were part of our own family, because they are. And we need to ask God daily how we can be his hands and feet, offering his healing hope to the hurting people he entrusts to our care today.