Deadly violence in Israel has erupted once again. It’s captured the world’s attention, and with it aspersions are cast in angry self righteousness. The Levant has been a whirlpool of contending peoples visiting war, famine and death on each another since the beginning of recorded history, so the current outbreak should not surprise anyone. This eruption centers on a corrupt, unmerciful hard-line Israeli prime minister facing off against a corrupt, unmerciful Hamas still harboring delusions of erasing Israel’s existence. Their mutual enmity is acerbated by the eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem homes they’ve occupied for generations, although their right to ownership has often been disputed; ultra-orthodox Jewish leaders who have no sympathy for Palestine rights; Palestinian resentment over their status as a minority with limited rights in their own country; the echoes of Arab-Israeli wars in the not too distant past; and genuine housing needs of a growing population.
How are we to understand it, and what, if anything can we do about it?
Recently, I wrote that Jesus’ ascension was a real life metaphor illustrating the permeable boundary between earth and heaven, between physical and spiritual reality. I want to suggest that the history of the eastern Mediterranean lands, including the current violence, is a living metaphor for the human condition. It gathers our collective behavior and reflects it back to us in painfully violent focus. This land made holy by human hopes, prayers, and God’s own decree, cannot be at peace until the people of “this fragile earth our island home” learn to live in peace with one another. What’s going on in the Levant is a microcosm of what’s going on all over the globe, particularly in places dominated by the Abrahamic faiths. When we stop oppressing and killing each other over the color of skin, tribal loyalties, religious pedigrees, caste differences, and lust for political power, there will be peace in Jerusalem.
We humans are too committed to our violent ways for that to happen anytime soon. Can’t there be peace in Jerusalem before then? No doubt there can, and I hope there is. It depends on the people who live there deciding to set an example for the world, rather than reflecting the world back on itself. Will they do it? Only God knows. They can if they have the will. In the meantime, those of us who live in other places can do as we are able to be agents of peace with justice – not law and order justice, but godly justice. All those signs proclaiming No Justice – No Peace aren’t threats of riot; they’re statements of truth. Peace that is more than the absence of violence cannot exist unless there is a collective and concerted commitment to godly justice. We’re not there yet. We’re not yet willing to give up the desire for vengeance. We’re not yet willing to give up structured advantage so that others are not disadvantaged. We’re not yet ready to give up pride of family and tribe that treasures social hierarchy. We’re not yet ready to give up measuring human worth by wealth and possessions. We’re not yet ready to give up love of celebrity. Christians, sadly, are not yet ready to follow Jesus
It’s not just a God thing. There’s a danger in getting too mystical about it, or falling into the Christian nationalism trap. The Realpolitik of the region stands on its own as a human problem humans can solve if they’re willing to do it. But let’s not forget that the Levant is also the place where God has been made known to us. God has spoken from it and through it, and acted in it. We call it The Holy Land, and it is. In some sense, it’s like a parabolic mirror gathering images of human behavior from throughout creation, and focusing the reflection of our unjust brutality back on us. It reminds me of John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan calling the gathered brood of vipers to repent. We, the peoples of this planet, are the brood of vipers. When we begin to change our ways, there will begin to be peace in Jerusalem.
First published 5.14.21 online on Country Parson, a 12 year old blog of commentary on religion, politics and economics. You can reach the author at stevenwoolley.com