We visited the sites of the Galilee today. The places Jesus walked and taught. We put our feet in the Sea of Galilee, prayed at the Church of the Annunciation, visited Capernaum, and remembered the stories of Jesus teaching the beatitudes, feeding the multitude, and healing Peter’s mother.
When we left Capernaum, we took a road that went through the West Bank to get back to Jerusalem. Filled with the experiences of the day, I inadvertently called to mind a song of my childhood by Michael W. Smith as we drove titled, “Secret Ambition.”
“Young man up on the hillside
Teaching new ways.
Each word winning them over.
Each heart a kindled flame.
“Old men watch from the outside,
Guarding their ways.
Threatened by the voice of a very God
Leading their lambs away.
Leading them far away.
“…but nobody knew his secret ambition was to give his life away.”
And I suddenly realized, envisioning Jesus in this land and place and remembering his teaching and ministry, if Jesus were to be born into this land today, Jesus would be a Palestinian.
In his day, the people of Israel were an oppressed and displaced people. A small nation and powerless, They lived in a land that was occupied by roman soldiers. They paid taxes to support a government they did not want or approve. They were forced to work menial jobs for low wages. Though they had lived in the land for generations, it could be taken from them at a moments notice for no reason. They were a people adrift in their own homeland, an occupied place, and had a faith without hope.
And then Jesus came, a simple man from a backwater small town. His message was love and freedom for all people. His promise was healing and wholeness. Jesus taught and embodied a God of love, a God who wanted wonderful things for all God’s children, whether they were poor or rich, oppressed or free, zealot fighting openly for their homeland back, tax collector and peon of the roman regime, or simple fishermen. Jesus looked at everyone with the same love and called them all to live in God’s kingdom with each other.
If Jesus came to this land today, he would not come as an Israeli supremacist, a wealthy businessman, or government official. Jesus would be born a Palestinian. A people who are occupied, who are strangers in a land that they once owned. A people who pay taxes but have no right to vote. A people working the most basic of jobs and who are forced from their homes at a moments notice. A people shut behind a wall and beaten simply for being other. A people whose hope of return and life is failing. This is who Jesus would be. Jesus would be a Palestinian.
We had the opportunity to speak with Violet, a Palestinian Christian who works with an ecumenical organization in Nazareth that uses non-violent means to speak truth, and work for peace, freedom, and justice. Violet laid out for us the theology on which they base their entire work and ministry, Palestinian Liberation Theology.
The theology is wrapped around three key scripture verses. First, John 10:10, “I come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” Violet talked about how freedom and life are a gift from God. It is for all people, and God calls us to this life, and not just life, but abundant, full, complete life.
Second, “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” from John 8:32, speaks to one of their main tenants. For so long the world and the Israelis have been living a lie. They have bought a lie. Violet’s organization, SABEEL, works to make the truth known, to share it far and wide, and put it in front of people so they cannot stay in the comfort of their own ignorance. She stressed that like the verse says, knowing the truth makes you free by pulling the hatred out of you. When you know the truth, hate is not an option and so you are truly free to live abundantly.
Finally, Galatians 5:1, “for freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Knowing the truth is not enough, because knowing and doing nothing is submitting again to the slavery of the lie. Instead, we are called to stand up and engage the very real and complicated issues of truth and justice.
This Palestinian theology sounds very much like what Jesus preached and called his followers to be and to do. Speak truth, love everyone no matter how different, and allow the truth in your life to transform you into free workers for God’s coming and already present kingdom.
The land is the same. The issues are the same. The call is the same. But the people are different. If Jesus came to this land today, Jesus would be a Palestinian.
We come to this land today, so how do we walk not only in the footsteps of Jesus, but truly in the teaching and way of Jesus? And then, how do we take that vision home again?
Rev. Amber Waugaman is a pastor in the Upstate New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.