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"The Promised Land"

I join persons of all faiths as we shout "Lord, have mercy" concerning the atrocities that have occurred and are occurring in Israel/Palestine. The horrific atrocities committed by Hamas are inexcusable. Once again, the Israeli military strikes back exponentially spreading more innocent blood. So far, Israel has killed at least twice as many innocent persons including children as those who were murdered by Hamas.

Is this what it means to be "a light to the nations?" Is this done in the spirit of "This is our land? It was promised to us by God."

My heart continues to bleed tears as I read statements posted by some Christians who seek to justify revenge. Some use passages such as Genesis 17:8, "The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give you as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you, and I will be their God" to support their viewpoint that Israel should exact revenge. What about other passages in the Old Testament that provide food for thought along side of Genesis 17:8 such as Isaiah 42:6-7: I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon tho who sit in darkness?

(Isaiah 42:6-7).

Likewise, consider Isaiah 2:4:

"He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their spears into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."

(Isaiah 2:4).

How can Christians justify revenge when Jesus of Nazareth, our Savior and Lord, chose not to lead a revolt against the Roman occupiers of Israel? Instead, he gave up his life on the cross.

How can we justify revenge when Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount, You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor' and hate your enemy,' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven? (Matthew 5:43-45a).

(Quotations listed are from "The New International Version of The Bible").

Unfortunately, some Christians post information such as the following on Facebook and other social media:

"In 1948, the UN established the State of Israel, the nation of Jews. Don't buy the Palestinian lies that they are entitled to the land. It simply is not true. Yahweh will also provide a way for his chosen people to live in Israel, as He has for thousands of years. Pray for the people of Israel."

In 1993, I was part of a team of United Methodists who spent nine days with Palestinian Christians who live in Beit Sahour, a shepherd's field next door to Bethlehem. The Palestinian Christians were part of Beit Sahour Lutheran Church. Fathers and Mothers, teenagers, and children told us many unsettling stories about ways they were persecuted, awakened in the middle of the night and searched, locked up like prisoners behind the great wall in the West Bank, and treated like trash by many of the persons who lived in Israel. I witnessed first hand Israeli soldiers mocking the Palestinians. For instance, after laying fresh concrete on the sidewalks in Manger Square, Bethlehem, I saw Israeli soldiers place their footprints in the wet concrete, call the masons derogatory names, and laugh. There were many other examples of abuse much worse than this. The Palestinian Christians I met also told us that there were other Jews they knew who believed in shalom. Once a week, Christians, Muslims, and Jews met in Beit Sahour to eat together, pray together, and covenant together to be bridge builders and peace makers.

After we spent nine days there, our team traveled to Ibillin, a small town North of Nazareth. While we were there, we met Father Elias Chaquor, a priest with the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. He is author of the books, "Blood Brothers" and "We Belong to the Land." Likewise, he started the co-educational Mar Elias Educational Institutions which enroll 2,750 students from age 3 through 18, including Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Druze.

In the foreword to the book by Father Elias Chaquor, entitled "Blood Brothers," James A. Baker III, U.S. Secretary of State, 1989–1992, wrote this:

"In my many years of public service, I have heard more stories of strife and woe than I can remember, most of them based on grievances that are, to one degree or another, legitimate. As I listened, I always waited for the therefore. Therefore our side is 100 percent right and our enemies are 100 percent wrong. Therefore we are justified in resorting to violence and in killing our enemies. Therefore you must help us. To the fiercest partisans, all questions are answered in cold absolutes. There can be no forbearance, no balancing of costs and benefits, no tolerance, no respect for the other side, no mercy."

"On a personal level, his (Elias Chaquor's) stories remind us how the great gears of history sometimes grind up the lives of innocent people. He tells about his Palestinian family, dispossessed after living for centuries on the same soil where Jesus walked, and about the Melkite Catholic order to which his family belonged, which traces its history to the very founding of Christianity, and which he serves as a priest and which he now leads as archbishop. But when he reaches the end, his therefore is of a fundamentally different nature. Therefore we must remember the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore we must love and forgive our enemies. Therefore we must reconcile ourselves with them and live together in peace. These ideas are breathtaking in their audacity and as radical today as they were when Jesus taught them two millennia ago."

(Chacour, Elias; Hazard, David. Blood Brothers (pp. 7-8). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Fellow followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, I plead let us stop seeking to justify revenge! Unless we love and forgive our enemies, how can we follow Jesus and join with Israel to become "A Light to the Nations"?

Some answer, rightly so, love means we hold one another accountable. Are there ways to do this other than perpetuating acts of violence?

For an example of ways we can still show mercy and hold each other accountable, one piece of history to study is "The Truth and Reconciliation Commission" that was formed by Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in South Africa. They put the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth into action. People were held accountable, seeds of shalom, restitution and reconciliation were planted, and this facilitated a long and continuing journey of healing.

Is this not God's desire for all?

Indeed, is not God's promised land entrusted to all who seek to become "A Light to the Nations?" Followers of Jesus of Nazareth dare to embody the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: "Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?" May living this prayer shine light on the pathways of agape that lead to the "Promised Land!"

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