Tuesday, August 30, 2011 — Week of Proper 17, Year One
Charles Chapman Grafton, Bishop of Fond du lac, and Ecumenist, 1912
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 982)
Psalms 26, 28 (morning) 36, 39 (evening)
1 Kings 8:65 – 9:9
There was a brief phrase in today’s first reading that sent a chill down my back. It comes at the conclusion of Solomon’s dedication of the first Temple. After Solomon held a great festival, the scripture mentions that “the great assembly” had drawn “people from Lebo-hamath to the Wadi of Egypt.” The phrase describes the idealized boundaries of Israel during the reigns of David and Solomon. It is one of those troubling phrases in the scripture that contributes to tension and violence today.
There is some disagreement exactly where Lebo-hamath lies, but it is between mountain ranges somewhere north of Damascus in Syria and east of Beruit in Lebanon. The Wadi of Egypt is the eastern boundary of Egypt.
This is one of the phrases in scripture that Zionists, including Christian Zionists, cite to make profound territorial claims on behalf of modern Israel.
I’ve seen one map promoted by Christian Zionists that declares that God has given to Israel the land in the Middle East stretching from the Mediterranian to the Euphrates, from Egypt to Turkey. Anyone who does not support Israel’s domination of this territory is an enemy of God, they say. Some of them also cite the faithfulness of Ezra and Nehemiah, and propose some similar form of ethnic cleansing in that territory.
During our visit to Israel and Palestine we were able to meet a number of Palestinian Christians whose families have lived in the Holy Land for centuries. They told us a bit of what it is like living under occupation. It was an ugly story. The numbers seem to show that Christians in Israel are being ethnically cleansed, in some sense. Palestinian Christians are leaving, those who can. They find life in their own land terribly constrained and even hopeless.
Our closest experience of some of their everyday life was the checkpoints. We went through the checkpoints and experienced what seemed like senseless harassment and intimidation. The government of Israel does not want tourists to stay in Bethlehem, which is in the Palestinian territories. So our bus of very ordinary American tourists was stopped at the checkpoint each time we went between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The wait was at least twenty minutes, at most fifty minutes. Twice we had soldiers armed with automatic weapons walk through our bus where we showed them our passports. The soldiers looked so young, so immature. One seemed almost chagrined that he was having to do this.
On another day we were all escorted off of our bus under gunpoint and processed about one hundred yards to go through a metal detector. There we witnessed close up the harassment and humiliation of the local population. A Muslim woman was in tears as she exposed herself underneath her full-body robe. Apparently the metal from her bra had set off the detector. An elderly man in flowing robes was held up for about twenty minutes. Finally he found what the contraband was. He showed it to the tourists as he eventually passed through the machine. It was a coin, less than half the size of a penny. A nurse was delayed from her work. She would be late to the hospital. Her metal buttons and zipper on her jeans made her inspection very time consuming. Every one of us, the tourists, set off the machine. We were waved through.
The ethnic cleansing of Christian tour groups staying in Bethlehem has been pretty successful. Our tour guide told us that very few groups are willing to put up with the hassle of the checkpoints. The company we toured with has an old relationship with the once thriving Christian community in Bethlehem. They persist in staying there for the sake of that struggling community. They thanked us for our patience, and for the hours of touring we sacrificed in order to make some contribution to the survival of our Christian brothers and sisters still living in Bethlehem.
I am no expert on the Middle East. But I experienced something that I would call injustice when I stayed among the Palestinians for a while.
There are those who declare that the world will never be at peace, that Jesus will not return, until Israel has dominion from Egypt to Turkey and from the Mediterranian to the Euphrates. I think those are the people who prevent peace.
In our reading today, the promises made to Solomon were conditional. The reign of the house of David and Solomon was conditioned upon their following God’s commandments. The commandments include the expectations of justice, and they demand the same law for the foreigner as for the native.
Fulfilling God’s intention for the Holy Land is more than domination on a map, particularly if that domination is accompanied by injustice. Those of us in the mainstream of Christianity need to confront the dangerous and unjust claims of Christian Zionism.