Kennington Avenue

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Speaking Truth

This is not a post that is anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian. It is about speaking truth. And as the bombs and missiles continue to fall in this ancient and historic land killing innocent people on both sides of this conflict, especially children it is time for truth telling. The prophets in Hebrew Scripture were known as truth tellers. They were not on anybody’s payroll. They stood outside of the political dynamics of the power brokers. They were called and anointed by God to declare a Word from the Sovereign and Holy God. One of those prophets was Jeremiah who was known as the weeping prophet because he faced resistance and opposition not just from the powerful but from members of his own family because the word that he spoke was a harsh word of judgment against a nation that inflicted great wounds upon people who were the most vulnerable and they failed to do justice. Jeremiah is the second major prophet. He is recognized as such by each major religious community. I read today a passage, actually two verses from the 8th chapter of this prophetic book. “My people are crushed. I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? Jeremiah 8:21-22

I have no argument with the assertion that the Jews have a right to live in a land free of hostility, free of threat but I would also affirm the natural corollary and that is that the Palestinians also deserve to live in a land free of hostility and free of threat. The violence and the deaths that have resulted from this violence is abhorrent. I’m thinking of the faces of the parents, the mothers in particular who have had to bury their children because of the hostility that exists between these two groups who fill this sacred space and the hatred that continues to spark the violence. But what is the source of the violence-the hatred? This is the question. And it is the question that we don’t want to entertain for fear that we are going to offend one of America’s strongest allies in this part of the world. Jeremiah speaks about a wound and the wound is injustice. The injustice in this case is the failure of  Israel to extend full justice to the Palestinians. When I visited Israel in 2009 on what was a religious pilgrimage of sorts there were some things that I saw that made me uncomfortable. When I saw that wall in Bethlehem built to separate Jerusalem from Bethlehem I was troubled by that. I heard a Palestinian Doctor who told me of having to display his passport as he went through checkpoints set up by Israel for no other reason than he was Palestinian. The stronger Nation has the greater responsibility I would argue to find ways to bring everyone to the table. The stronger Nation has the greater responsibility to examine itself to see where it has either caused the wound or contributed to the deepening of the wound. Bombs and missiles will not bring peace. They will only create more pain and the greater suffering will  be born by the children who are the innocent victims in all of this.

“My people are crushed. I am crushed. I mourn and horror grips me.”

For every person watching this nightmare unfold in the place of Jesus’ birth, in a land that is the birth place of Judaism, Islam and Christianity there is horror that grips us as the land is saturated with the blood of the innocent who have been cut down before they even begin to live. And as the prophet Jeremiah makes clear by his words God is watching this and the suffering that is being inflicted by His people and upon His people is a suffering that is felt by God.

“Is there no Balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wounds of my people?”

This is the question. Do we have the courage to engage the question in order to bring not just a ceasefire but to dispense justice in the land so that each people who live on the land are honored and treated with dignity and respect.


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About the author

Ken Wheeler is a retired pastor. He most recently served at Cross Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Milwaukee, where he is now the director of the Bread of Healing Empowerment Ministry. For 18 years he was as an assistant to the bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA.