They take over the goods of others

Fearless prophet Jeremiah led me to Anathoth, three miles northeast of Old City Jerusalem, where he once purchased a field (Jeremiah 32). The very act of buying property reflected Jeremiah’s conviction that God wanted his people settled and secure in the land of Israel. But along with other Hebrew prophets, Jeremiah knew that possessing land requires those with privilege and power to act fairly and keep covenant.

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A kind of no man’s land separates Shafut Refugee Camp (upper right) from Jewish settlement Pisgat Ze’ev (foreground, left). Immediately beyond the refugee camp is Old City Jerusalem.

Hot words burned in my ears as I surveyed the landscape at Anathoth. “Scoundrels are found among my people,” Jeremiah declared in the name of the Lord. “They take over the goods of others” and “do not defend the rights of the needy” (5:26). If Jeremiah was so strident in seventh century BC Israel, what would he say today to people who occupy and confiscate land belonging to Palestinians?

The above photo of the Anathoth region shows urban development immediately northeast of Old City Jerusalem. The entire area is in the West Bank, part of the land designated for Palestinians by 1947 United Nations agreement. On the far side of the Wall at upper right is Shufat Refugee Camp. Palestinians live there, people displaced from their ancestral homes in 1948 as Israel became a nation. At that time more than 750,000 Palestinians fled to the West Bank and surrounding countries, their villages taken over or destroyed by an advancing army. Many eventually ended up in refugee camps such as Shufat.

Today ruins of biblical Anathoth lie within Shufat Refugee Camp. The ancient home of Jeremiah is surrounded by Palestinians dispossessed of their homes and with few political rights. Compounding injustice is the Jewish settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev (left side of this picture), built beyond the Shufat Refugee Camp, further into the West Bank. It is one of 600 Jewish settlements on what most of the world deems Palestinian land. Nearly encircled by the Wall, Palestinians at the refugee camp are caught between the realities of an Israeli-controlled Jerusalem and an Israeli-sanctioned Jewish settlement.

Who am I, resident of American land taken from native peoples, to point out the injustice of others? My people have our own sins to acknowledge, and I can wear no cloak of self-righteousness. But I grieve what is happening in the West Bank because I want Israel to be strong and safe and just. I honor the Jewish people, cherish the Hebrew scriptures, admire the Jewish faith, and pray to the God of Abraham. People who endured pogroms and Holocaust horrors need a place to live that affirms their peoplehood and history, that guards their security and dignity. But I also want Palestinians, some of whom are Christians of ancient lineage, to live in safety in their ancestral land.

So I support “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine,” a resolution that is coming before delegates of Mennonite Church USA in July, 2017 (see http://mennoniteusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/IP-Resolution.pdf). This richly-textured document reflects consultation with Palestinian, Jewish, and Christian stakeholders. It calls on American Mennonites to pray without ceasing for peace, to build relationships with both Jews and Palestinians, and to avoid investing in companies that profit from Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Rejecting antisemitism, the resolution challenges political leaders to seek solutions that honor the aspirations of all peoples who call Israel/Palestine home. Jeremiah would affirm this call for justice.

© 2017  J. Nelson Kraybill ****************************************IMG_0425

Come with my wife Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour accessible even to non-athletes like myself. Dates are May 14-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum. Details are still pending but we likely also will hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route, and more. Interested? See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/holy-land-peace-pilgrim-walk-jesus/

Danger and loss lie that way

We had not traveled the whole way to Crete to be intimidated by a few washed-out roads! Determined to cross the island to the south coast, Ellen and I rented a sturdy SUV and headed into the drenched central mountains. Our destination? A tiny harbor called Fair Havens where a merchant ship carrying the apostle Paul once anchored (Acts 27).

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From the rainy central mountains we saw sunshine in the bay at Fair Havens (modern Kali Limenes) where Paul’s ship anchored.

If we were tense driving mountain roads in stormy weather, how anxious must Paul have been when he arrived at Crete? The apostle was a prisoner, appealing his case to Nero’s court at Rome. His life was at stake. Further danger came from making such a sea journey late in the sailing season when storms could sink a ship.

Unlike modern sailboats with deep keels, ancient sailing vessels could not “beat” upwind. They only could run with or sail across the wind. Unfavorable conditions quickly could blow a wind-powered ship far off course.

Staying near land as long as possible, Paul’s ship had followed the coastline from Palestine up to southern Asia (modern Turkey). From there the vessel turned southwest until “with difficulty” it rounded the east end of Crete and continued along the south coast to the harbor at Fair Havens.

Ellen and I headed toward the harbor by land, crossing the central mountain range in cloud and mist. But as we crested Crete, the heavy weather broke, and the south coast came into view. Sunlight streamed down on Fair Havens!

When Paul arrived there, he told his captors that it was too dangerous to continue further. But the ship captain had a mind of his own, and insisted they at least sail to the west end of Crete for the winter.

When the boat weighed anchor, a violent northeaster caught them, blowing the ship far out into open waters. The only option was to continue westward and hope for the best. Paul had warned that “danger and much heavy loss” would accompany such a voyage.

Sometimes that’s what I want to say when I see polarization and partisan behavior in the church. Sometimes I sense danger and heavy loss ahead when my government ignores environmental warnings, cuts benefits for the poor, gives tax breaks to the rich, stokes racism, or aligns with dictators. I am not a prisoner, but I am along for the journey with my church and my country.

When Paul’s ship got into serious trouble at sea, he declared, “You should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete.” But the apostle did not linger long with “I told you so.” Instead, even as his vessel careened toward catastrophe, Paul as prisoner testified to the saving power of God. He encouraged fellow travelers and prayed with them. He so cared for the crew that they chose, apparently against standard pratice regarding prisoners, to spare his life rather than execute him when shipwreck became certain. Six hundred miles west of Fair Havens, after a torturous passage, the ship carrying Paul disintegrated on the coast of Malta.

Paul’s dilemma at Crete reminds me that difficult or dangerous circumstances sometimes are completely beyond my control. Then I remember, with Paul, that a loving and merciful God is sovereign. What will I do to show God’s love to fellow church members or fellow citizens if, God forbid, crisis and hardship follow in the wake of bad choices others have made? And who will mediate God’s grace to me when I make bad choices?

© 2017  J. Nelson Kraybill ****************************************IMG_0425

Come with my wife Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour accessible even to non-athletes like myself. Dates are May 14-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum. Details are still pending but we likely also will hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route, and more. Interested? See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/holy-land-peace-pilgrim-walk-jesus/

Hope in the wake of a brutal killing

Perhaps those who have lost a loved one to the brutality of terrorism or war can begin to understand the disorientation and paralysis of two traumatized disciples on their way to Emmaus on the Sunday after Jesus’ crucifixion (Luke 24:1-35). Drained by the horror of Friday, confused by reports of Christ risen, the two apparently were on their way home. They “stood still, looking sad” when a stranger asked what they were discussing.

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At a the village of El-Qubeibeh–possibly biblical Emmaus–modern disciples Ruben Chupp of Indiana and Hank Landes of Pennsylvania walk on a short stretch of Roman road.

Not recognizing the traveler as Jesus, the disciple named Cleopas snapped back, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days? . . . We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Religious leaders of Jerusalem had conspired to eliminate the man many thought would redeem Israel from foreign occupation.

When armed revolt against Rome actually came a generation later (AD 66-70), Jewish rebels melted down Roman coins with their blasphemous images of “divine” emperors. Using the very term redemption that was the hope of the travelers to Emmaus, rebels minted new coins that read, “for the redemption of Zion.”

What I would give to have heard Jesus’ biblical exposition of the redemption of his people! Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Luke says, he interpreted to his fellow travelers the things about himself in all the scriptures. “Were not our hearts burning within us?” the two disciples said later.

How ancient and modern nationalists of Israel, and patriots of every nation, need our Lord’s interpretation of scripture! Beat swords into plowshares, love the enemy, forgive, do justice, love mercy, and embrace kingdom ethics. Peacemakers can use the whole of scripture–even violent passages–when we refract our reading through Jesus.

The two on their way to Emmaus invited the stranger to lodge at their destination. It was when Jesus blessed and broke bread at table that “their eyes were opened, and they recognized” the Lord before he vanished. Death is not the end for followers of the risen Lord. The two disciples rushed back to Jerusalem to report incredible news to the other disciples. There Jesus himself appeared among them, and his first words were, “Peace be with you.”

A Palestinian driver took three of us modern travelers to possible sites of ancient Emmaus: Nicopolis (seventeen miles west of Jerusalem), and El-Qubeibeh (seven miles). Nicopolis seems too far for the round trip hike that Luke describes. Biblical Emmaus likely was at modern El-Qubeibeh, now a Palestinian town.

There in a gated churchyard a short stretch of Roman road remains. In late afternoon I photographed my fellow travelers on the Emmaus road. I thought we were alone on the church grounds, and only later noticed a mysterious figure in the photo behind my companions. Jesus appears on the road at unexpected times and places!

© 2017  J. Nelson Kraybill ****************************************IMG_0425

Come with my wife Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour accessible even to non-athletes like myself. Dates are May 14-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum. Details are still pending but we likely also will hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route, and more. Interested? See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/holy-land-peace-pilgrim-walk-jesus/

Cautionary tale of an arrogant leader

We know Gideon as the military strategist who startled and defeated an invading army of Midianites with a mere three hundred soldiers by sounding trumpets and smashing jars (Judges 7). But what happened after Gideon’s victory is a cautionary tale for all who would self-promote and gain power by trampling others.

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Abimelech was crowned king by relatives and friends between Mt. Gerizim (left) and Mt. Ebal (right) at the city of Shechem (modern Nablus).

Gideon (also called Jerubbaal) gave temporary leadership among the tribes of Israel in an era before there were kings, when “judges” governed as needed. These were regional religious/military leaders who rose to unite and defend the scattered tribes or to restore faithfulness at times of crisis.

Some Israelites wanted to make Gideon king after he defeated the Midianites, but he refused. “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you,” he declared (Judges 8:23). When Gideon died, however, a son named Abimelech thought otherwise. He hired “worthless and reckless fellows,” who followed him (9:4). To eliminate competition, he slaughtered seventy other sons of Gideon–all his half-brothers. Only the youngest, Jotham, survived.

Abimelech was crowned king at Shechem (modern Nablus), a city between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal that was home to Abimelech’s concubine mother. Soon his sole surviving brother Jotham appeared at the top of Mt. Gerizim and cried aloud, “Listen to me, you lords of Shechem, so that God may listen to you!” (9:7). Jotham then told a fable (9:8-15) that is a timeless take-down of abuse in power:

The trees of the forest decide to choose a king, and one by one they approach possible candidates. They start with the noble olive, but it refuses. “Shall I stop producing my rich oil by which gods and mortals are honored, and go to sway over the trees?” The fig tree likewise says, “Shall I stop producing my sweetness, my delicious fruit” to function as king?

Approaching progressively less worthy candidates, the trees ask the vine to become king. “Shall I stop producing my wine that cheers gods and mortals?” the vine responds. Finally they invite the bramble. Perhaps not understanding how many noble trees have refused the honor, the bramble accepts. But the prickly nature of the bramble immediately becomes evident: “If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.”

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Brambles are a nuisance that still flourish today in politics and in the hills of central Palestine.

The idea of a bramble providing shade is laughable, and things did not go well when Abimelech reigned. Supporters soon turned against him, and in the end a woman threw a millstone upon his head. Aware he was dying, Abimelech’s last words to his armor bearer were, “Draw your sword and kill me, so people will not say about me, ‘A woman killed him’” (9:54).

© 2017  J. Nelson Kraybill ****************************************IMG_0425

Come with my wife Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour accessible even to non-athletes like myself. Dates are May 14-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum. Details are still pending but we likely also will hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route, and more. Interested? See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/holy-land-peace-pilgrim-walk-jesus/

Where truth confronted power

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Today called the kishle (Ottoman word for “prison”), this is a possible location of the praetorium where Jesus stood trial before Pilate.

Today multiple versions of “truth” compete for attention in politics and media, and we ask the same question Pontius Pilate famously put to Jesus: What is truth? (John 18:38). Truth already had been compromised on the night Jesus stood in Pilate’s judgement hall. At the house of High Priest Caiaphas, Peter had lied by declaring he never knew Jesus. Guards then escorted Jesus to Pilate’s praetorium (official headquarters and judgment hall) where Jesus would be sentenced to death. Seeing calamity close in on his master, and recognizing his own moral failure, Peter went out and wept bitterly.

Pilate was Roman governor of Palestine, suspicious of anyone who spoke of kingship apart from subservience to Rome. “My kingdom is not from this world,” Jesus declared to Pilate. Our Lord was not pointing to an other-worldly or theoretical kingdom. The way of Jesus already was creating alternative communities and transforming lives. Jesus was telling Pilate that authority and power in his kingdom do not come from Rome.

Nor was Jesus going to use conventional political tactics or coercive power to advance his reign. “If my kingdom were from this world,” Jesus said, “my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” In Galilee Jesus had taught his followers to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” On earth! Not pie-in-the-sky politics, but a visible new society of people who live in radical obedience to a reconciling God.

What courage!

What courage Jesus shows in the face of a ruler who could order his immediate execution! Awed by such audacity, I descend with other pilgrims into what may be the room where the trial drama took place. Archeologists recently completed excavations of this part of the so-called Tower of David in Jerusalem. This large room perhaps was Pilate’s praetorium. Walls and roof are from the Ottoman era (AD 1300–1922), but foundations are from the time of Christ.

tower-of-david-reduced

“Tower of David” is a misnomer. The structure has nothing to do with David, but is the palace of Herod where Pilate resided when in Jerusalem. The minaret is Ottoman, but it marks the place adjacent to the city wall where there are remains of first-century buildings.

Whether or not this is the actual place where Jesus was interrogated, mocked, and sentenced, here I consider the relationship between the powers of this world and the reign of God. Someday, by God’s grace, we will celebrate the fact that “the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah” (Rev. 11:15). But for now, political realities of our world often are a far cry from the kingdom of God. Truth too often is the first casualty, as leaders tell half-truths or outright lies to cover their failures or advance their agenda.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and the three are closely related. With trustworthy speech that needs no oath for validation, we follow the way of Jesus. In the light of the gospel, we learn the truth about God and ourselves. At a time when society pressures us to align with political parties and polarizing ideologies, we find the life abundant of unity with Christ and his body, the church.

© 2017  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************IMG_0425

Come with my wife Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour accessible to non-athletes like myself. Dates are May 14-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum. Details are still pending but we likely also will hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route, and more. Interested? See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/holy-land-peace-pilgrim-walk-jesus/

Women at the growing edge

 

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Along the Krenides River, where the Apostle Paul likely met Lydia, Ellen Kraybill tests the waters.

Among recent immigrants at the church where I worship in Indiana, it is women who come to faith first. Women then invite husbands and relatives, providing energy for outreach. Throughout church history, women often have led the way in growth and change.

The first Christian in Europe whose name we know was Lydia, who received the gospel as Paul traveled through Philippi. Women such as Lydia in the New Testament sometimes serve as hosts (and pastors?) of house churches. These include Mary the mother of John Mark at Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), Chloe at Corinth (2 Cor. 1:11), and Phoebe at Cenchreae (Rom. 16:1). Nympha hosts a congregation at Colossae (Col. 4:15), and Priscilla with her husband Aquila shepherd a church in their home at Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19).

The Greco-Roman world in which the early church grew was patriarchal. Women were second-class, usually under the guardianship of a father or husband. But widows could function as heads of household. This may have been the situation of Lydia, immigrant entrepreneur at Philippi, who marketed purple cloth.

Purple dye was expensive because a mere pound had to be extracted from thousands of snails. Being costly, purple was the color of royalty and elites. Lydia traded in this luxury product, suggesting she was similar to other Gentile “women of high standing” (Acts 17:12) who embraced the gospel.

Gender imbalance

The early church appears to have been disproportionately female, partly because of two factors: 1) In Christ, gender distinctions dissolve so there is “no longer male and female” (Gal. 3:28), meaning woman often had more status in the church than in Roman society, and 2) Christians rejected the Roman practice of leaving unwanted newborns (most often female) abandoned to die. Christians nurtured their infant daughters, and also rescued infant girls who had been abandoned by others.

Lydia survived into adulthood, but was drawn to faith community at the edge of society. The book of Acts says Paul met Lydia along with other women at a Jewish “place of prayer” by the river outside Philippi (Acts 16:13). A Roman colony such as Philippi was not going to have a Jewish place of prayer within its boundaries. The likely spot where the women met to pray now is a shaded bend in the Krenides River near ruins of Philippi.

Lydia was a “God-worshiper,” meaning a Gentile who worshiped the God of Israel but did not practice the whole of Jewish Law. She was an immigrant, culturally in transition.

The church today can profit from making entry ramps for similar newcomers and God-seekers who are drawn to the hospitality and Good News of the faith community. Often women will be the leading edge of new family systems or ethnic groups coming into the church. The Holy Spirit will open their hearts and ours to Christ, just as happened when Paul shared the good news with Lydia.

© 2017  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************IMG_0425

Come with my wife Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour accessible to non-athletes like myself. Dates are May 14-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum. Details are still pending but we likely also will hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route, and more. Interested? Please be in touch with me and/or see www.TourMagination.com

Sanctuary for Jesus’ grandmother

With anti-immigrant fever festering in countries of the Western world, I find it instructive to drive on the King’s Highway into ancient Moab, east of the Dead Sea in modern Jordan. Here ancestors of David and Jesus found sanctuary during the era of judges when drought devastated Bethlehem and their Judean homeland (Ruth 1:1–5).

The ancestors were Naomi, her husband, and two sons. They surely traveled the King’s Highway into Moab because it was and still is the only main north-south highway through the region.

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This is the King’s Highway in Jordan through biblical Moab–a route that Naomi and family almost certainly traveled when they arrived as economic refugees.

The family must have been in dire straits to migrate to Moab, because it was a nation Israelites despised. Israelites understood the founder of Moab to be the product of incest (Gen. 19:37). The Law of Moses stated that “no . . . Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord” (Deut. 23:3) because Moabites had been hostile when Israelites passed through their territory on their way from Egypt to Canaan.

So what kind of reception did Naomi and family receive? Apparently better than some immigrants experience in my own country, and the family settled in Moab. Sons grew up and married Moabite women, and then tragedy struck. First Naomi’s husband died, then both her sons, leaving three widows: the Israelite Naomi and her two Moabite daughters-in-law.

Naomi resolved to return to her native Bethlehem. She urged the two younger women to stay in their homeland of Moab. But daughter-in-law Ruth clung to Naomi and spoke the timeless words, “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16).

Now it fell upon Israelites at Bethlehem to show hospitality to an immigrant. The book of Deuteronomy may have said nasty things about Moabites, but it also said, “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you” (Deut 24:19).

Ruth was an alien in Bethlehem, and landowner Boaz allowed her to glean in his fields. Romance blossomed, the two married, and Ruth the Moabite became an ancestor both to King David and to Jesus (Matt. 1:1-16).

Passports and visas did not exist in the time of Naomi and Ruth, but prejudice surely did. Naomi was an economic refugee when she traveled down the King’s Highway into Moab, and had to overcome prejudice. If she and her impoverished family had needed to wait twenty years for an uncertain visa into Moab, they may have starved to death.

Stories of the immigrant grandmothers of Jesus remind me why it might be important for followers of Jesus to help create sanctuary today for immigrants who flee hardship in their homeland and look to us for hospitality.

© 2017  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************IMG_0425

Come with me on a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour for people with hiking boots, accessible to non-athletes like myself. Dates are May 14-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum. Details still pending but we likely also will hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls (yes, you can circumnavigate the Old City on top of the walls), trace the Triumphal Entry route, and more. Interested? Please be in touch with me and/or with www.TourMagination.com