Sun, Jul 22, 2018

Ending hostility


Variously denounced by critics as "racist"...


and "verging on apartheid"...

this week, Israel's parliament enacted a new law--

which is, effectively, a constitutional amendment.

That law declares that, "Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people"...

and that the right of self-determination in Israel is "unique to the Jewish people".

In so doing, it omits any mention of democracy or equality.

According to one of the chief human rights lawyers in Israel, the law 

"will give rise to arguments that Jews should enjoy special privileges and subsidies and rights, because of the special status that this law purports to give to the Jewish people".

The law also declares "the development of Jewish settlements" to be a "national value"...

and specifically encourages and promotes their establishment.

That all leaves the Arab population of Israel--

which comprises just over twenty percent of the population--

in an even more precarious position.

They already claim to face "constant discrimination"...

and to receive inferior public services in regards to "education, health and housing".

And they expect that will only get worse under this new law.

The leader of the largest Arab party in the Israeli parliament protested:

"Today I will have to tell my children, along with all the children in Palestinian Arab towns in the country, that the state has declared that it does not want us here. It has...told us that we will always be second-class citizens".

Needless to say, none of this is going to help the entrenched hostility and hatred that many feel...

stemming from the foundation of the modern state of Israel in nineteen forty-eight--

when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced to flee their homes;

an entrenched hostility and hated that periodically results in acts of violence...

and bloody reprisals...

and unspeakable brutality...

and outright conflict and war.


All of which makes this morning's reading from Ephesians quite striking.

Speaking quite specifically about the situation of the Hebrew people and the rest of the ancient world, the author declares:

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near...For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us".




and an end to hostility--

that's certainly not what we see in the Middle East today;

nor is it what we have seen over the last two thousand years either.

It might be something that we long for.

It might be something for which we hope.

But, truth be told, it's probably a distant and fading dream...

the stuff of fairy-tales or pious "pie-in-the-sky" delusions.

Indeed, these words suggest a fundamentalist naivetÇ or ivory tower theological idealism.

Writing in a context where there had been age-old conflict and hostility between Hebrews and non-Hebrews--

whom we would commonly label Jews and Gentiles--

where the Hebrews treated non-Hebrews as outsiders, strangers, and deviants;

as those who didn't belong to the people of God;

as "them", not "us";

while the Hebrews were regarded by everyone else in much the same terms...

the author has the temerity to proclaim that it has all changed;

that those who didn't belong, now do;

that the barriers that existed between them have been broken down;

that the very grounds for hatred and hostility between them have been removed;

that there was no longer anything that ought to separate them...

or keep them apart.

He claims that, in Christ, the Hebrew Law has been abolished.

Now, that's a very unfortunate way to put it!

It smacks of a bigoted Christian exclusivism.

Admittedly, the author is probably referring to the Hebrew Law insofar as it constituted a barrier--

fostering a notion of superiority and privilege...

and contributing to ethnic and racial hostility.

And he wants to affirm that the life and death of Jesus has demonstrated to us a very different God--

a God who is not just some tribal deity...

but a God whose desire and intent is that all of humanity should live in peace;

He argues that we should rediscover our essential unity and our shared humanity;

because Jesus has demonstrated for us a God who loves indiscriminately and impartially...

and who pays no attention to the walls that we erect and the barriers that we create.

He declares that Jesus has demonstrated that our anger, our hatred, and our hostility cannot change God's love for us...

or for anyone else...

and that it won't have the last word.


And yet, the author goes much further than that.

He doesn't just say that God will overcome our hostility--

at some distant point in the future--

but that God has overcome it now!

He doesn't say that those who were divided will be made one--

at some point in the future--

but that God has made us one already.

Our various translations suggest that God's intention for humankind is reconciliation and peace;

and yet, in the original Greek, these are seen as consequences of God's overcoming our hostility.

In other words, the author claims that...

from God's perspective... 

everything necessary to end human hostility and hatred...

to break down our divisions...

to enable peace and reconciliation...

has already been accomplished by means of Jesus Christ.

Now, on one level, I want to affirm that too.

But it's not that simple.

If I make the unilateral claim that everything has changed--

that there's no longer any reason to maintain the barriers that have divided us--

but others don't recognise that--

if, for them, nothing has changed either in practice or in theory--

then, does that not just create another barrier?

Does that not just continue to divide us?

Furthermore, the language that the author of Ephesians uses effectively deconstructs his very intent.

He speaks of peace...

and yet his description of the process speaks of "breaking" and "abolishing".

In other words, he declares peace through acts of violence.

Is that really the "better way" that Jesus was trying to show us?

Is that how God really works?


Not if we take seriously the subversive symbolism of the cross.

The cross is not a symbol of power...

certainly not coercive power--

at least from the perspective of the one being crucified--

but a symbol of powerlessness.

The cross seeks to demonstrate the utter futility of violence.

The cross is, ultimately, an invitation to humanity to see differently and to do differently.

As Martin Luther King Jr once put it:

"Jesus eloquently affirmed from the cross a higher law...He did not seek to overcome evil with evil. He overcame evil with good. Although crucified by hate, he responded".

If, in Jesus Christ, God has brought peace...

then it is only by showing us the futility of violence--

all violence.

If, in Jesus Christ, God has overcome that which divides us...

then it is only by showing us a different way to do it...

a different way to be human:

that peace and reconciliation will only be accomplished through sacrificial self-giving;

by choosing the way of love... 

not the way of hate... 

nor fear...

nor victimisation...

nor exclusion.

And, clearly, that is a lesson that we still need to learn.


Powered by: truthengaged