Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use in public gatherings with attribution of author and blog site.
In the 84th and final year of her life, my fundamentalist mother surprised me by saying wistfully, “I thought I would live long enough to see Jesus return.”
I must confess to more modest goals. I thought for sure I would live long enough to see peace come to Israel.
Maybe my mother was the more realistic one!
A year or two ago I stopped reading news stories about Israel and the would-be state of Palestine when the latest hopeful peace talks stalled. After more than 45 years following events there, I was fed up with both sides.
Why did I feel I had a right to be fed up? Because of the amount of U.S. tax dollars that have gone to support that region, the political and emotional and even spiritual capital that has been wasted, all the media time spent on a relentless conflict and the additional conflicts with Arab states created for the West—not to mention all the suffering of the people there with whom I have identified, on both sides.
I was in high school when the Six Day War of 1967 occurred, 45 years ago this June. My teacher of International Relations, himself Jewish, explained that the first strike mentality of Israel was like the survival response of a man about to be pushed off a cliff. Our student body president, a young Jewish woman, cried that first day of the war. As I recall, the tears came because she felt so conflicted between her ideals and her hope for Israel. When I took her to our senior prom, I met her father, who showed me the tattooed numbers on his arm and explained his camp was liberated by Eisenhower himself, who openly cried to see the condition of the prisoners. The parents of a close friend explained divisions over Israel in the Jewish community—some thought as they did that they were Americans first, while others thought of themselves as Jewish first whose first allegiance was to Israel.
None other than the Mahatma Gandhi himself expressed reservations about the establishment of Israel, implying that it would be far better for Europeans to overcome their anti-semitism than be in the business of nation-building.
Why do I write of this now? Because in the past few days I’ve been reading and re-reading the final chapters of Isaiah, using the New Jerusalem Bible, pondering how the texts might give rise to both the Zionist desire to reclaim the land of Palestine as well as the hope of moderate Israelis who pray and work for peace.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins,
they will raise what has long lain waste,
they will restore the ruined cities,
all that has lain waste for ages past. (61:4)
No more will you be known as “Forsaken”
or your country be known as “Desolation”;
instead, you will be called “My Delight is in her”
and your country “The Wedded”… (62:4)
These are just two excerpts lauding the restoration of a Jewish nation that could instill zeal in those who apply it to the present state of Israel.
But there are other examples of what peacemakers in Israel consider Israel’s higher calling:
The nations will come to your light
and kings to your dawning brightness. (60:3)
I shall make Peace your administration
and Saving Justice your government.
Violence will no longer be heard of in your country,
nor devastation and ruin within your frontiers. (60:17c & 18a)
On a Fordham University religious studies tour of the Middle East long ago, I visited Egypt, Jordan, the West Bank, and Israel. We heard from a lot of displaced Palestinians, and saw firsthand an abandoned camp for Palestinian refugees. It was on the Sea of Galilee (actually, a lake) that we were reminded of the collusion of fundamentalist American Christians with Zionist claims, as the leader of another group on board our boat offered a prayer over the P.A. system for the full flowering of the State of Israel so that Jesus could return. This is a dangerous alliance for Israelis, because these Christians believe that when Jesus returns, Jews will be smited!
I wished Jesus had returned in that moment to shut off the preacher’s storm of words with “Peace! Be still!”
How I wish I could live to see the day when Isaiah’s vision is fulfilled:
As a mother comforts her child,
so I shall comfort you;
you will be comforted in Jerusalem. (66:13)
And that of Jesus, weeping over Jerusalem:
“Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace.”
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