The Arabic edition of my book Zion’s Christian Soldiers: The Bible, Israel and the Church is now available as a pdf download
The print version of the Arabic edition of Zion’s Christian Soldiers was published by the Anglican Publishing House in Cairo and is also available and costs £8.95 plus £2.75 postage in the UK and £4.75 internationally. Order via PayPal.
Back in 1967, Nelson Bell, the editor of Christianity Today and father-in-Law of Billy Graham, wrote in an editorial for the journal,
“For the first time in more than 2,000 years Jerusalem is now completely in the hands of the Jews gives a student of the Bible a thrill and a renewed faith in the accuracy and validity of the Bible.”
Eleven years on, in 1978, President Jimmy Carter, claimed,
“The establishment of the nation of Israel is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy and the very essence of its fulfilment.”
45 years on, that seems increasingly hard to defend when Israel is acknowledged by many human rights organisations to be an ethno-nationalist apartheid state. This week, the US/Canadian denomination, the Disciples of Christ, became the latest to adopt a resolution naming Israeli apartheid, acknowledging that “many of the laws, policies and practices of the State of Israel meet the definition of apartheid as defined in international law.”
If you went in search of the village of Emmaus today, you would not find it. This Sunday, literally hundreds of millions of Christians around the world will hear the Easter story of the encounter between two disciples and the risen Lord Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. Few however, will hear mention of Emmaus today, or what has happened there in our lifetime. In an article published by If Americans Knew, Sacred Christian Site Emmaus Destroyed by Israel, Alison Weir writes,
“In 1967, after Israel launched its Six Day War, Israel expelled the inhabitants of Emmaus and obliterated almost all traces of the village, along with two other Palestinian villages nearby. This was part of the Israeli strategy, in the words of an Israeli historian, “to take over as much of Palestine as possible with as few Palestinians as possible” Israeli journalist Amira Hass describes Emmaus before it was levelled:
“Schools, mosques, an ancient church, olive presses, paths to fields and orchards, bubbling streams, mountain air, sabra bushes, carob and olive and deciduous trees, harvested fields, graves, water cisterns.” Israel then “brought in the bulldozers and destroyed and detonated and trampled. Not for the first time, not for the last. And the owners of all that beauty – the elderly, the children, the infants – heard and watched the explosions from a kilometre or two away.”
2000 years ago Jerusalem was under a siege. One man set out on a lonely road to do something about it. Only 14 miles long. A day’s journey, up-hill, Jericho to Jerusalem. A one-way ticket. Jesus is out in front leading the way, setting the pace. Here is Mark’s eyewitness account:
“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:32-34)
Surrender is not a popular word, is it? Almost disliked as much as the word submission. It implies losing, and no one wants to be a loser. Surrender evokes unpleasant images of admitting defeat in battle, forfeiting a game, or yielding to a stronger opponent. The word is almost always used in a negative context. In today’s competitive culture we are taught to never give up and never give in. So, we don’t hear much about surrendering. If winning is everything, to surrender is unthinkable. We would rather dwell on winning, succeeding, overcoming and conquering not yielding, submitting, obeying, or surrendering. It is ironic then that surrender is at the heart of the Christian faith.
Palm Sunday is all about surrender. Jesus rode on a donkey not a horse. Jesus came in peace not war, to surrender not conquer. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom sacrifice, to be the Passover lamb, to make atonement with God. And when some in the crowd laid their coats on the ground, it was a sign of their surrender to him. Because surrender is the natural response to God’s grace and mercy. Our surrender is called many things in scripture: consecration, taking up your cross, dying to self, yielding to the Spirit, presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice. What matters is that we do it, not what we call it.
“To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilisations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!” I’m sure you know these are the opening lines from the iconic TV series Star Trek. At the beginning of every episode, Captain James Kirk of the Starship Enterprise says “Space: The final frontier”
Most of us will never get to test that frontier but there is another frontier we all face with a 100% certainty. Death is usually the last thing we want to talk about and yet it comes to us all, sometimes prematurely. And too many people are ill-prepared. When a loved one in mid-life is diagnosed with inoperable cancer, your world is turned upside down. Your faith is tested. Your priorities and hopes for the future are changed, instantly, radically, irrevocably. And so by the way does your circle of friends. Invariably it gets smaller, but I’m thankful for those who have stuck with us over the past five years, who have encouraged us to persevere.
I woke up the other day and couldn’t see properly. I could see a blurred object like a large hair moving around in one eye. When I looked in the mirror there was nothing on my eye, but I could still see something moving around. That was when my curiosity turned to mild panic. Was I losing my eyesight? Was it cancer?
I phoned the medical helpline 111 and was referred to the local Accident and Emergency Eye Hospital. A nice person triaged me over the phone and made an appointment for me to visit the next day. I was seen quickly by an eye specialist who did numerous tests, one of which is not for the faint hearted. It involved smearing my eye with aesthetic jelly and then placing an instrument on the pupil to explore the inside of my eye. Her diagnosis was that I have a vitrous detachment or ‘floater’.
I am sure like me you have been shocked at the eruption of violence in Palestine this week. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz invariably goes for the jugular with its headlines where Western media normally fear to tread. On Tuesday, for example, Haaretz ran the headline, “Israeli Settlers’ Hawara Pogrom was a Preview of Sabra and Chatila 2” In case you were born after 1982, in September that year, after invading Southern Lebanon, the Israeli military allowed the Lebanese Phalangist Militia to enter the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and massacre over 3,500 Palestinian men, women and children. Haaretz drew the comparison, “This week in the West Bank, no one stopped the extremist settlers from running amok in Hawara.”
They say you never get a second chance at a first impression. But first impressions can sometimes be rather superficial. And that is also true when people think of Jesus. What were your first impressions of Jesus?
My first memory of Jesus was around the age of six when I first attended Sunday School. I remember two things: Singing the chorus, “Jesus loves me this I know…” and a large painting of Jesus on the wall. Jesus was holding a lamb in his arms surrounded by lots of little children my age – except strangely unlike my Sunday school class, they were all different colours. There was an African child, a Chinese child, an Indian child, a Native American child and many others that were different to me. But I do remember, reassuringly that Jesus had long golden hair and a blond European complexion. My first memories were of a white Jesus and for many of us that is our unconscious default view we carry we carry with us through life. Comforting it may be until we encounter someone with a different religious heritage. William Blake described the dilemma we face.
What is it that makes you angry? At a trivial level, I get angry when I see someone drop litter or see a dog owner allow their pet to soil the path. More seriously I get angry when I see graffiti sprayed on a wall, or a tree sapling vandalised. I get angry when I hear climate change deniers, or when companies discharge waste into rivers. I get more angry when I see someone being bullied or harassed, especially if it’s a child, a woman, someone with a disability or person of colour. I get even more angry still over child abuse, sexual harassment or physical violence. I feel very angry with holocaust denial, Antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of racism. Above that, those who justify apartheid, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and genocide. That’s me. What about you? What about Jesus? What did Jesus get angry with in the gospels? Surprisingly it was none of the above. What was it? Religious hypocrisy. Worth reflecting on that isn’t it?
In our gospel reading today Jesus’ instructs us on dealing with anger and with conflict resolution. Here are three headings: Unjustified anger is always destructive (Matthew 5:21-22) Unsettled disputes are invariably costly (Matthew 5:25-26) Pursue reconciliation to resolve conflict (Matthew 5:23-24)