Let the Bridegroom come!

Wedding--compressedCRPalestinian weddings can last for a week, as family and friends revel through rounds of anticipatory parties. When it’s finally time for vows, men convene at the groom’s home for one last celebration before leading him away to make promises.

I came upon a wedding in the West Bank north of Jerusalem at just such a moment. The village was a jubilant jam as clapping and laughing men crowded around the groom on a side street and spilled out onto the main thoroughfare. I approached on foot, and all warmly waved me in to join the ruckus. The groom and first man were on shoulders with arms aloft. Music! Drums! Dancing!

Elsewhere family and friends prepared and adorned the bride. If a couple is Christian, the groom’s family (without groom) bring the bride and bridesmaids to church, where all await arrival of the groom and the culminating ceremony. When vows have been made, somber ritual shifts again to celebration with hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, tabbouleh, pita bread, rice, lamb, cake–and more dancing.

Weddings are huge events in Middle Eastern culture, and family reputation is at stake. No wonder Jesus turned water to wine at a Cana wedding feast. A family that needed to show generous hospitality faced the humiliation of empty goblets.

The kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who carried lamps and went to await the bridegroom, Jesus said (Matt. 25). Five were wise to fill their lamps with oil; five were foolish and did not prepare. The bridegroom was delayed until midnight, whereupon the foolish scurried away to buy oil. When they returned, the feast already was underway and doors shut.

What does it mean for us to be ready for the marriage supper of the Lamb, when Christ will bring justice and salvation to the world? Can we get beyond fixation on “rapture” and end-of-the-world Armageddon scenarios to see that God wants to bring a new heaven and a new earth where shalom/salaam will prevail? Do we understand that we are to start living into that transformed future now?

When John of Patmos pictures the end of this age as a wedding, the church is a bride clothed in fine linen, bright and pure. The linen is the “righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev. 19:8). We sinful mortals cannot earn salvation, but actions reveal our spiritual state. After telling the story of bridesmaids, Jesus also likened the inbreaking kingdom of heaven to a property owner who put servants in charge while he traveled. The owner returned to severely punish his servants for poor management. How are we managing in planet care today?

Perhaps the Bridegroom already is present in our world–as an immigrant, or single parent, or displaced person in the West Bank, or refugee from proxy wars of super powers. At final judgement, Jesus said, bewildered “goats” facing eternal separation from God will protest, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” (Matt. 25:45). Come, Lord Jesus, and teach us justice to be ready for your coming.

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************JNK2018sm
Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where so much biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a “Journey of Hope” tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019 (https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ ). In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth. We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation–including justice issues of Israel and Palestine—as we travel and worship together.
A second tour on June 10-20, 2020, similar to the above, can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/

Respect for both Jews and Palestinians

Canaanite gate CR

“At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” With that casual aside, the biblical account of Abraham and Sarah arriving in Canaan states that the territory already was populated. “To your offspring I will give this land,” God told Abraham (Gen. 12). Today near the northern border of modern Israel there’s a mud-brick Canaanite city gate built about 1750 BCE—approximately when Abraham and Sarah arrived. Did they go through this gate? Did they know that their descendants someday would dispossess Canaanites of life and land?

Made of mud bricks, the ancient gate today stands under a hangar-like canopy for protection. A small model nearby shows how the gate effectively was a fortified building with a central passageway. Descendants of Abraham and Sarah, after a 400-year detour into Egypt, returned to conquer Canaan with swords and claims of divine mandate. Entire Canaanite cities perished. That must have been brutal for indigenous people, and raises serious ethical questions.

Today conflict still simmers, this time between Jews and Palestinians, who both trace lineage to Abraham. Most Palestinian descendants of Abraham are Muslim, and many likely also have Canaanite DNA. The Palestinian population includes the largest group of Christians in Israel and the West Bank. These followers of Jesus are not fully accepted by Jewish or Muslim majorities, and I give them (and all Palestinians committed to peace) my support. Since my Christian faith springs from Judeo-Christian wells, I also am deeply drawn to Judaism, and call on Israel to act justly.

While Jewish Israelis have suffered substantial casualties since becoming a nation in 1948, Palestinian loss is far greater. A 2016 book by Daniel Gordis, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, helps me understand the roots of Zionism and Israeli aggression. Jews suffered staggering losses through centuries of mistreatment, often at the hands of “Christians,” culminating in the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is rising in Europe and North America, and certain Middle Eastern nations still vow to destroy Israel.

None of this painful history justifies what too often happens today in the West Bank. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis have settled in the West Bank on land belonging to Palestinians. That is a violation of international law. Morally and ethically it makes Israel less secure. People of conscience around the world should protest this violation, even as we acknowledge our own sins. I own Indiana land stolen from Pottawatomie people just as surely as Jewish settlers have taken land from Palestinians.

Some religious and political progressives reflexively condemn Israel, while some Christian conservatives reflexively support everything Israel does. Neither extreme is acceptable. Especially for outsiders, humility is in order–but we must speak for just treatment of all peoples.

I want safety for both Jews and Palestinians, and all who are committed to peace. I do not support Jewish settlements in the West Bank, nor do I advocate strategies that shame and isolate. A wounded psyche is likely to respond with more hostility and violence. Instead, I want to build relationships with both Jews and Palestinians, and stand in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah and Jesus. Both loved Jerusalem, but wanted its gates open to become a “house of prayer for all the nations” (Isa. 56; Mark 11). Today that would include access and safety for Jews, Palestinians, Muslims–and even Christian pilgrims like me.

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************JNK2018sm
Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where so much biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a “Journey of Hope” tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019 (https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ ). In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth. We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation–including justice issues of Israel and Palestine—as we travel and worship together.
A second tour on June 10-20, 2020, similar to the above, can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/

Letting the other guy win

 

Jordan Valley--CRJNK(2)

This view eastward across the Jordan valley, north of the Dead Sea, shows land that Lot chose as grazing territory for his flocks.

With wars festering in many countries, and continuing conflict over land in the West Bank, I pray that political leaders might have the reconciling spirit of Abraham.

Shortly after returning to Canaan from Egypt, Abraham found himself in conflict with his nephew Lot over access to grazing (Genesis 13). Abraham was rich, and as patriarch could have demanded that his herds get the best. Instead, he chose generosity.

“Let there be no strife between your herders and my herders,” Abraham told Lot, “for we are kindred. Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”

Hearing such a gracious offer, one might expect Lot to defer to his uncle. But Lot looked eastward and saw that the “plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt” (where the Nile River creates a long, lush ribbon of agricultural land).

Genesis says Lot “chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan.” Abraham settled in Canaan, the drier highlands, while his nephew went to the far side of the valley and set up camp near Sodom.

Today travelers along eastern edges of highlands in the West Bank can look down across green vegetation in the Jordan valley below. On the far side of the valley, just before the mountains, there is an unexcavated tel (archeological mound) that may contain ruins of ancient Sodom. There Lot settled after helping himself to what appeared to be the best land when Abraham the peacemaker made that possible.

Modern social theory identifies five negotiation styles in conflict: 1) compete (I win/you lose), 2) accommodate (you win/I lose), 3) avoid (I lose/you lose), 4) compromise (I win some/lose some, you win some/lose some), and 5) collaborate (I win/you win). In this conflict with Lot, Abraham accommodated.

A University of Notre Dame website says “Giving in or accommodating the other party requires a lot of cooperation and little courage. . . This style might be viewed as letting the other party have his way. While this style can lead to making peace and moving forward, it can also lead to the accommodator feeling resentment.”

Yes, that is a hazard. But after Lot and Abraham parted, Abraham rescued his nephew when he was abducted (Gen. 14), and later pleaded (unsuccessfully) with God to spare the city of Sodom, where Lot lived (Gen. 18). There is no hint of resentment in these actions of Abraham, but neither is there evidence that the accommodating and rescuing he did issued in a close bond between him and Lot.

But by taking generous initiative for a peaceful solution with Lot, Abraham was not burdened with bitterness. I admire his willingness to share with Lot and even accept loss to keep peace. Sometimes accommodation, or going the second mile (Matt. 5:41), is the best strategy in conflict. Abraham had faith in God’s call, and confidence that God would be good on the promise to bless him and his descendants with land and abundance.

© 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/