21st Sunday after Pentecost (November 6, 2011)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Amos 5:18-24; Ps. 70; I Thess. 4:13-18; Matt. 25:1-13
We continue to receive daily reports about our granddaughter, Sydney Hope Byler, who was born six weeks premature, Oct. 29. She is breathing on her own, gaining weight and – from our unbiased perspective – growing cuter by the day! Holden and Heidi are supplying us with wonderful pictures. It is not as good as being there, but it helps.
During the past two weeks, we accompanied a learning tour group from the United States and Canada as they visited with MCC partners in Palestine and Israel. We were tugged between despair and hope as we listened to Israelis and Palestinians reflect on their respective narratives of insecurity and displacement, and heard their views about the barriers to and prospects for a just and sustainable peace.
The group met with Palestinian Christian and Muslim partners who are seeking to nonviolently resist the occupation of their land; with the architect of Israel’s 430-mile separation barrier; with a settler living deep in the Palestinian West Bank; and with Israeli peace activists who are challenging Israeli society to acknowledge the Palestinian history of displacement. More than 530 Palestinian villages were forcefully emptied for the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Palestinians continue to be displaced as land is confiscated for the Israeli separation barrier and for settlements in the West Bank.
After the learning tour, we traveled to Gaza for two days to visit with two MCC partners who are offering food security, medical care and job training to the most vulnerable Gazans. Their inspiring work is even more important as Canadian aid to the Gaza Strip has ended and USAID is carefully structured so as not to make any infrastructure improvements for which the ruling Hamas government could claim credit. We did notice a marked increase in construction from a year ago, as building supplies are flowing more freely to UNRWA-sponsored projects.
In the region this week the Israeli navy intercepted Canadian and Irish boats loaded with medical supplies bound for Gaza. UNESCO voted to admit Palestine as a full member, triggering harsh economic responses from the U.S., Canada and Israel. The Palestinian Authority foreign minister announced that the PA will persist in seeking full member status at the United Nations.
Press reports are again increasing about possible Israeli military strikes against Iran’s nuclear program. Meanwhile, largely peaceful protests continue in Jordan.
The Common Lectionary readings address misconceptions about the “day of the Lord.”
Not what we expect. In the Old Testament reading, the people expect the day of the Lord to be a time when God will judge their enemies. The prophet Amos says that, in fact, it will be a time when God’s people are judged for their false worship. Instead of solemn assemblies, showy sacrifices and noisy music, God is interested in worship that leads to right living. “But let justice roll down like waters,” thunders Amos, “and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)
Not how we expect. In the Epistle reading, Paul adds that when Jesus returns, those who have died in Christ will precede those who are still living and will “meet the Lord in the air” to “be with the Lord forever.” (I Thess. 4:17). For this reason, we need not live without hope when our loved ones die (v.13).
Not when we expect. In the Gospel reading Jesus describes God’s coming kingdom with a parable about 10 bridesmaids – five of whom were prepared while waiting for the bridegroom’s unpredictable arrival and five who were not. “Keep awake therefore,” Jesus challenges his followers, “for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matt. 25:13)
The winter rains have begun, restoring life to this dry land. With the prophet Amos we long for justice to roll down like waters – to restore right relationships, quality of life for all, and peace in the land. In our Old City tour, we were reminded that the place of Jesus’ resurrection was only steps away from the site of his crucifixion. Despair and hope abide side by side in this Holy Land.