14 June, 2010

Our obligation to Israel is soon going to be tested. Are you ready for it?

Our Debt to Jerusalem - UPDATED


The late Pope John Paul the Great was acclaimed throughout his pontificate for being the pontiff that finally aligned the barque of Peter with ‘our elder brothers and sisters,’ the first children of Abraham, the Jews. As someone who had resisted antisemitism throughout his life, his apology, offered in Jerusalem in the extraordinary Holy Year of the Millennium, carried the credibility of one who experienced the horrors of the Holocaust first hand in Poland. His acknowledgement of the debt of all Christians to the people of the first covenant should have consequences not only in the spiritual realm but in worldly matters too. It means that we must ensure the welfare of the Jewish people as members of our extended family.


Recent and future events in Israel's blockade of the Gaza strip now demand that the nations of the world respond with diplomatic initiatives, supporting either Israel or Hamas. The question then becomes: Do Christians, as citizens of nations, have an obligation to take one side or the other in these disputes? Further, are individuals obliged to express in some way to their government, a demand to do what is necessary to stand with our spiritual family elders, the Jews? Given that Sacred Scripture of both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles states that the presence of the Jewish people in Jerusalem is an essential precursor to the arrival of the Messiah in glory, it would seem that Christians who hold to an orthodox interpretation of scripture, are obliged to stand with Israel.


Thomas Oden, in his 2003 book The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in Christianity enumerates the reasons that Christians live in a fraternal relationship with Judaism. These include a commitment to the Hebrew Bible as Holy Scripture and an understanding of themselves as co-inheritors with Jews at the final coming of the Messiah. They also share a common belief in the God of Abraham, Moses, and Israel as the giver and orderer of nature and history and that he is the creator of man and woman in His image and likeness. Together we believe that when we fail to fulfill our obligations, he offers a way of atonement such that we need not fear his coming at the consummation of history.


It is due to this final point that Christians should be able to see the source of inspiration for supporting not only Judaism as a religion, but also the State of Israel. Our faith in God is a ‘particular faith’ in that it is founded upon specific interventions of God in creation—with Noah, Abraham, and Moses, and for Christians, His incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ. To believe this requires that we believe in the Messiah of the Jews and this demands a particular understanding of one particular people’s history: the history of the Jews.


Christians and Jews both hold that the Exodus, with its Messianic elements, was the central event which sealed our relationship with God. The Jews are still waiting for his arrival. Christians simply believe that He has come ... and that He will come again. It is part of our creed that when He does return, he will do exactly what the Jews expect of the Messiah—come in a way that will make it impossible to deny his true nature. Jews and Christians both believe that day will begin the general resurrection of the dead - a final judgment by which the people of the covenant will be rewarded for their fidelity to their commitments to God and each other. These are hardly events that can be explained by anything short of a universal acknowledgment of the existence of God. Those who would dare deny it could only do so by be beings utterly opposed to Him.


This conviction is common to both Jews and Christians. We may each receive something different than what we expect from YHWH on that day- but there is no question that we are both awaiting the  anticipated arrival of the same God. If citizens of the western democracies practice this faith, they are obliged to acknowledge that the Jewish people and the State of Israel are owed support in any   future confrontations.


The same Hebrew Scriptures, as well as in the Talmudic interpretations that followed, state that when the Day of Judgment comes, the people of Israel will occupy the lands He gave to them after their Exodus from Egypt. Sacred Scripture tells us that the penultimate battle in which good finally vanquishes all evil is to take place in the land of Israel. Christian Scripture even names the exact place in Israel where the Apocalypse will culminate. Given that we draw our hope in the promise of God from these same sources, are we not then obliged to believe that the existence of the State of Israel is a necessary precursor to the Messiah’s final arrival on earth? In the political battles that constantly inflame the Middle East, Christians are obliged to support whatever is necessary to guarantee the continual existence of the Jewish state with Jerusalem as its capital. Obliged, that is, if one believes in the promise and truth of Scripture as understood for almost 2500 years of human history.


We all know that within families disputes oft times arise. At times, the discussion can get quite 'intense'. As family we should each have the right to disagree with any particular policy of the State of Israel without being assaulted with allegations of antisemitism if  the discussion get's  heated. Our shared citizenship in the kingdom to come earn Christians the right to argue with our disagree as members of the same extended family. There are things that may be said in anger or passion, but in strong families even such issues can be resolved with time and mutual respect. It is also true that in times of trouble a family pulls together in mutual support, respect, and affection. It is the most primal of our obligations: to do what we must to guarantee our family continues to exist. When or if called upon, Christian nations are obliged to do what is necessary to ensure the security of the Jewish State as the real expression of our brothers and sisters in faith.


Irish folk wisdom teaches that a family is like the hand. Individually no one finger can dominate the others without compromising its ability to function as a hand. When faced with an outside threat however, the fingers of a family come together into an invincible fist for defense of home, hearth and family. This image is certainly familiar to me here in the Ottawa Valley, where families are taught to stand shoulder to shoulder in times of trial, even if some members carry battle scar's from recent family quarrels. This is what it means to BE family.


Christians may soon be called to remember this familial debt we owe our elder brothers and sisters to exist in peace, prosperity and security as it is being reported by some international media outlets (click here) that Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are soon to try to run the Gaza blockade, and we will likely have to decide if we believe that  'blood' is truly thicker than water'.


If and when that time comes, it will be time to put any troubles between us aside and stand shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel.

1 comment:

  1. David Rosen27 June, 2010

    Dear Father Tim,

    While I deeply appreciate your theologically based solidarity with the Jewish people, I am also a little disturbed by it.
    While you (fairly) present Israel and Hamas as two opposing sides in the conflict in the Holy Land, there is a real danger that the contrast you draw will be understood (and I hope it was not intended) as referring to Palestinian and Israelis. In other words, a zero sum game - solidarity with Israel means that one cannot support Palestinian national aspirations and vice versa. The consequences of such a perspective condemn Israel to perpetual conflict and time is not on our side. Indeed you words raise another question of "who is my friend" ? In my opinion a true friend is one who let's you know when your conduct is leading you on the path of suicide - not one who encourages you on that course. Far more than any threat from Iran, Israel's survival is jeopardised by policies that both do not respond to peace initiatives (in particular the Saudi proposal supported by the Arab League which offers Israel peaceful relations with more than fifty Muslim countries. I do not say accept it as it is, but at least give some positive response for negotiations !)and even make conflict more inevitable, stimying the possibility of negotiations (most prominently, Israel's settlement policy.)
    The result is that if a Palestinian state is not created very soon and the opportunity for a "two state" solution will have been lost, Israel will not be able to survive as a Jewish state that is a democracy at the same time - simple demographics even more than the misguided expansion of settlements will guarantee this.
    If Israel relinquishes its democratic character, neither the United States not any other friendly power will be able to support Israel anyway.

    You refer to John Paul II. In his historic apostolic letter, Redemtionis Anno, of 1984, not only did he call for "security and tranquility for the Jewish people who live in the State of Israel", but he also called for the "natural right in justice" for a homeland for "the Palestinian people, who find their historical roots in that land".He further called on the peoples and religions "to live together peacefully in mutual cooperation. That vision will be brought about by a "win win" approach in which Israelis and Palestinians - Jews, Christians and Muslims - learn that the well being of one depends upon that of the other. Any encouragement to see one another only as an adversary, will only thwart the realization of that vision and any further eschatological hope, Chrstian or Jewish.

    Blessings from Jerusalem,

    David Rosen

    ReplyDelete

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