From the Psalms:
When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was stupid and ignorant; I was like a brute beast towards you.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary [Evening Psalm] – Psalm 73:21-22 (NRSV) – August 1, 2014)
I don’t know what to do about Israel and Palestine. Apparently no one knows what to do about Israel and Palestine. There is so much bitterness and emotion on both sides and from all quarters that no one can even talk about Israel and Palestine.
There’s a Facebook meme that I see from time to time: “How to start an argument online.” The instructions are simple: (1) express an opinion; (2) wait. With regard to the fighting and the deaths in Gaza, this is especially true.
Condemn the government of Israel or the Israeli Defense Force for bombing schools and hospitals . . . one is immediately labeled anti-Semitic.
Express sympathy for the people of Israel who have to deal with Hamas’ rockets . . . get called a Right-wing ideologue.
Vent one’s horror at the deaths of Palestinian women and children . . . you are obviously a supporter of Hamas.
Suggest that maybe the two sides should sit down and work out a way to live together . . . clearly one is naive or, worse, delusional.
So much bitterness and heartsickness on all sides; so much stupid brutishness as a result.
In today’s gospel, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to the tomb, find it empty, and encounter an angel. Even though the angel tells them to not be afraid, they are; they leave the tomb “with fear and great joy.” They have, as my late mother was fond of saying about many things, “mixed emotions.” This ought to be, and probably is, what most people have about the situation in Israel and Palestine.
But what we seem incapable of doing is admitting that, that our emotions are mixed. Instead, we latch on to one predominant emotion and let it color every statement and conversation: horror at the death of children and we become passionate defenders of the Palestinians, unable to see that there is some right on the side of the Israelis; fear for the Jewish homeland and we become passionate advocates for the IDF, unable to see that there is good on the Palestinian side, as well. In the thrall of emotion, as the Psalm says, we become stupid and brutish.
The women, with mixed emotions, encountered Jesus.
One of the things we learned on our recent trip to the Holy Land was that there has been a significant, even drastic drop in the percentage of the population which is Christian. Thirty years ago, about 25% of Palestine’s residents were Christian; today, less than 2%. Israel blames “Muslim extremism” for causing the Christian exodus; Palestinians counter that it results from Israeli government policies. It really doesn’t matter, however; the decrease is a fact.
What is also a fact is that, on the ground — not from government or leadership sources, but from people we met on the street, both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arab Muslims told us in no uncertain terms that they need the Christian presence, that they see in the Christian community the only possibility for peace and reconciliation. They believe that the Christian presence holds the possibility for mediation and a way forward for all.
They made it clear, of course, that by “Christian presence” they mean the traditional churches, the Roman Catholics and the Greek Orthodox, the Lutherans and the Anglicans, not the “Armageddonists,” the fanatics who support the ultra-Orthodox Jews who want to rebuild the Temple, the Dispensationalists who think the recreation of “biblical Israel” will hasten the Rapture, the Tribulation, the final battle, and the return of Christ. The presence of those folks holds only the promise of greater conflict.
No . . . the people we met on the streets and in the shops of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and elsewhere want, with their mixed emotions, with their bitterness and heartsickness, to encounter Jesus in the people of his church. They want to, as the Lutheran bishop in the Holy Land said yesterday, engage in “interfaith dialogue, a dialogue which seeks the common values of peace, justice, co-existence, and non-violence.” (Bishop Munib Younan)
This is why the traditional Christians of Palestine must stay, and why the traditional Christians of other countries must support them with our prayers and encouragement, our financial contributions, and even our presence. We must not be afraid to go to the Holy Land to stand with them and to greet the other children of Abraham, the Jews and the Muslims, to say to all, as Paul said to the Corinthians, that there is a “still more excellent way.” (1 Cor 12:31)
“Without dialogue between religions, extremism will grow and moderates, including Christians, will be sidelined and marginalized in their own societies. It is time not only for governments to assume their responsibilities, but also people of faith.” (Bishop Younan)
We must not allow mixed emotions, bitterness, or heartsickness to turn us brutish and stupid. Rather, with all of our emotion and our intellects, we must encounter Christ and we must be the Christ others encounter.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.