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Gaza, Israel, and Jesus' Disciples

Listen to our podcast with Fr. Kamal on Apple or Spotify.

I recently had a conversation with the Rev. Dr. Kamal Farah. He has been a dear friend and mentor of mine over the years. Father Kamal is a Palestinian Anglican priest who lives in Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. In our podcast with him, he talked about the stark reality of life in Israel right now.

Prices continue to climb in all aspects of life, while tourism—one of the top jobs in the country—is almost nonexistent these days. Bus drivers, who are usually hauling religious pilgrims around the Holy Land year-round, are now considering selling their buses just to pay their bills. When the pilgrims will return is still uncertain, but there is no hope without a ceasefire first. Financial stress is a major part of everyone's life, and hard decisions are being made by families and individuals that could affect them for years to come.

Schools and hospitals run by the Church continue to play a vital role in and around Nazareth. Even so, there is instability in the system, as Fr. Kamal described it. Sometimes schools are closed by the government for seemingly no reason, which obviously affects children and their families. Interestingly, large portions of the student body in these Christian schools are Muslims. Like the schools that serve more than just Christians, church-run hospitals are also open to anyone. This a great testament to the Church’s witness in that area. As in so many parts of the world, the Church is inextricably linked to education and healthcare. That Muslims and Jews may encounter one another in the waiting room of a Christian hospital is a beautiful irony that this world needs to be reminded of.

And so, Christians play a vital role as bridge builders through these creative avenues within society. But with continued conflicts in Gaza and the Lebanese border, compounded by rising prices across the economy, and constant disruptions in the education system, you can understand the immense pressure felt by those far from the the frontlines. All are paying a toll, and peace is not cheap.

This conversation with Fr. Kamal reminded me that regional conflict affects so many communities that aren’t regularly covered on the nightly news. Nazareth is a unique case study because it is home to all three faiths, and so neighbors must navigate these things together. That’s definitely not something I’ve seen on the news.

As our conversation continued, I wondered what a Christian’s role amid the conflict is. Which side do you choose? The clashes we’ve seen between protestors and counter-protestors over the past few weeks on college campuses make you categorize between good and evil, genocide or tyranny, hostages or liberation. Where does a Christian stand? How do you be faithful in such a fraught situation?

It is a heartbreaking situation. Devastating for the Jewish people. Near famine for the Gazans. There is a reason this topic is so divisive.

But Fr. Kamal reminded me of what he says to his Jewish and Muslim friends. In his gentle and loving way, he will say something along the lines of, “As long as Jews and Muslims say, ‘God gave me this land,’ there will be no peace. It is only when these groups can recognize that it is God’s land then there is a way for peace.” He points to Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River as a sign that Christians claim to be members of a people without land or borders. Just as that river was a sign for ancient Israel that they were entering the land promised to them, when Christians are baptized, they are inheritors not of land but of a kingdom that knows no boundaries. “Neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Fr. Kamal practices what he preaches and is a great model for all Christians who are trying to discern where to be on this important issue. Fr. Kamal is right in the middle, in and among people. Through years of building trusted relationships, he is an icon of the Prince of Peace to those in his community—and the world. He is living what I am simply typing. It’s much easier to do the latter than the former.

What if Christians were in the gap between the protestors and counter-protestors? Instead of barricades separating the two groups, what if Jesus’ disciples filled in no man’s land? Instead of separating people from each other, could we be the bridge that brings people together? That would require living in the tension of the two; listening to what is being said, weeping with those who mourn, and strengthening the fainthearted. All in the name of the Lamb who was slain for the world.

The Christian response may not be to pick the right side, but to be in and among this sinful and broken world that longs for wrongs to be made right, for tears to be wiped away, and for hills and valleys to be made low so that the King of righteousness may appear.

Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. 

-Psalm 24:8-10, KJV

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