A new creation

Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 14, 2010)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Josh. 5:9-12; Ps. 32; II Cor. 5:16-21; Lk. 15:1-3, 11b-32

During the past two weeks, we accompanied a Canadian learning tour traveling in Palestine and Israel. The group — from Manitoba and Alberta — visited biblical sites, and met with Israelis and Palestinians to learn about the current conflict.

Palestinian boys in Hebron, the West Bank city where Abraham and Sarah are buried

We walked by the Sea of Galilee (where Jesus called four of his disciples), along the Via Delarosa (where Jesus carried his cross), and through a checkpoint in Bethlehem (where today Palestinian workers spend hours each morning waiting to gain access to jobs in Jerusalem).

Marianne Penner crosses the Bethlehem checkpoint in the separation wall

From Palestinians, we heard stories of life under military occupation and the daily difficulties of being trapped behind a separation barrier — including lack of access to jobs, farmland, religious sites and medical care.

From Israelis, we heard about security concerns that are rooted in a long history of persecution, culminating in the Holocaust. We met with the architect of the 436 mile (703 km)-long wall and fence barrier that Israel has constructed to block Palestinian access to Jewish population centers, including Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land.

The separation wall snakes through Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem

Danny Tirza, architect of the separation barrier, explains the 30 foot (9 meters)-high wall to Walter Hamm

Both Israelis and Palestinians expressed the fear that a major violent confrontation is looming on the horizon. And, yet, the group also heard stories from courageous Palestinians and Israelis who are taking risks for a just and durable peace for all peoples in the region.

Peter Rempel, MCC Manitoba executive director, presents a pair of gloves to Alex Awad, dean of Bethlehem Bible College

Alex Awad, dean at Bethlehem Bible College, told the group: “The Bible is not about occupation and fighting, but about justice and peace.” He went on to say that, “Peace between Israel and Palestine is necessary for the survival of the Christian church in the region,” which has dwindled from 15% of the population in 1946 to less than 2% in 2010.

Archbishop Elias Chacour and Elsie Rempel

Melkite Catholic Archbishop Elias Chacour also expressed concerns about the mass emigration of Christians from the Holy Land. Addressing the issue of Christian Zionism — a theology that rejects criticism of the harsh policies of the Israeli government because it is said to represent God’s chosen people, Chacour said: “There is no privilege; all are called to be adopted children.”

Eitan Bronstein, Zochrot director, describes to tour participants Neil and Herta Janzen how Canada Park was built over the site of a former Palestinian village

The group also heard leaders from courageous Israeli groups, including Zochrot, The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and Rabbis for Human Rights — who are working for ways that Palestinians and Israelis can share the land in peace.

The Common Lectionary readings for this fourth Sunday in Lent focus on God’s new creation that springs from the soil of human repentance.

In the Old Testament reading, as God’s people enter the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the desert, God tells Joshua, “I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” (Josh. 5:9)

The psalmist writes that when he kept silent about his sin, his body wasted away, his strength was dried up and God’s hand was heavy upon him (Ps. 32:3-4). However, when he acknowledged his sin, God forgave him and instructed him in the way he should walk (vv. 5-8).

In the Epistle reading, Paul declares: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (II Cor. 5:17)

In the Gospel reading, the prodigal son comes to his senses after nearly starving in a foreign land. “I will get up and go to my father,” the son declares, “and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’” (Lk. 15:18-19). There is not a hint of hesitation from the father, who welcomes his wayward son with hugs, kisses and a big party (vv. 20-24).

Spring flowers in Nazareth Village

In the Galilee, beautiful spring flowers reminded us that God is indeed faithful to bring forth a new creation. Our prayer is that Israelis and Palestinians together will soon experience a new creation of peace and justice in the Holy Land.

There are many ways whereby repentance might well hasten this day – if the Christian church would apologize for its historical persecution of Jews and its uncritical embrace of Christian Zionism; if Israel would abandon its policies of occupation and land confiscation, and if the minority of Palestinians who have resorted to violence would embrace a nonviolent struggle for justice.

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