Third Sunday after Epiphany (January 24, 2010)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Neh. 8:1-10; Ps. 19; I Cor. 12:12-31a; Lk. 4:14-21
During the past two weeks we traveled to northern Iraq and then to Gaza and the West Bank, along with the directors of MCC’s three advocacy offices.
In northern Iraq, we heard stories from families who have been uprooted by war.
“Before, we were a family; now we are no longer a family,” wept one Iraqi Christian who lost his mother and aunt in violence last year.
“We suffered under Saddam and now the U.S. has added to what we suffer here,” lamented an Iraqi Christian woman.
“We are a tired nation,” said one Muslim man who was kidnapped several years ago and now lives in a different part of Iraq.
And yet in the midst of this suffering, we experienced gracious hospitality. And while Iraq struggles to form a we
Next we traveled to the Gaza Strip — a small rectangle of land along the Mediterranean Sea, some 25 miles long and 5-7 miles wide.
Our trip to Gaza came one year after the war in which 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. Again, we were welcomed with warm hospitality.
While some of the rubble from the 20,000 buildings that were destroyed or damage in the war has been cleaned up, there has been little rebuilding. Israel will not allow cement and other construction materials into the Strip. In some cases, families have fashioned homes out of bricks made with mud and straw.
Gaza is being squeezed ever more tightly. Israel controls the borders to the north, east and west of Gaza. Egypt controls Gaza’s southern border. Since 2006 when Hamas came to power, Israel has tightly controlled the flow of goods in and out of Gaza.
To survive, Gazans have dug more than 3,000 tunnels on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt. Now, Egypt – with U.S. support – is building a steel wall 30 meters (100 feet) underground to block these tunnels.
“The more the closure is tightened, the more the people suffer and the more the leaders prosper,” claimed one civil society leader. Many worried that those with extremist views are growing in strength due to the ever worsening conditions.
“We have experienced more than 60 years of war and occupation,” reflected a Palestinian man whose home was destroyed by an Israeli missile in early 2009. “We want to have life now.”
“What is happening here is against all rules of God and international law,” said one Christian leader. “We are living in a big prison here.” An estimated 2,500 – 3,000 Christians live in Gaza.
Gazans told us that they don’t want the aid from international organizations if it is not coupled with advocacy aimed at ending the economic siege.
“We are all the chosen people of God,” reflected the Palestinian leader of a Christian agency in Gaza City. “We are not animals. We do not have a different God.”
Commenting on the fact that many Western Christians refuse to criticize the Israeli government’s policies due to a theological understanding that God views the modern state of Israel with special favor, one Christian in Gaza stated bluntly, “The theologians should do something about this.”
During our travel, we read again and again the Common Lectionary readings for the week.
In the Epistle reading Paul writes, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free…” (I Cor. 12:13). Paul continues, “If one member (of the body) suffers, all suffer together with it” (v.26).
In the Gospel reading, Jesus announces the mission that God has sent him to fulfill:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk. 4:18-19).
Never have these words seemed so poignant. Or so necessary.