Part of what I do for my day job is I go into schools and teach first graders problem solving skills. After doing a program that demonstrates kids solving a problem, we ask them to help us solve a problem. If I’m leading, I’ll set the scene by letting them know I’m really hungry for some lunch. At the last second, as I’m walking to line up in an imaginary lunch line, another person jumps in front of me. After modeling a way to calm down, I’ll ask a room full of 6 and 7 year olds for some suggestions on how to solve my problem. Their answers usually range from “Ask them for your spot back” to “Ask them NICELY for your spot back” to “Say ‘PLEASE, can I have my spot back?'” to “SERIOUSLY. GIVE ME MY FREAKING SPOT BACK OR I WIL CUT YOU! AND I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT A “CUTTING YOU IN LINE” SORT OF CUTTING, BUT I WILL TAKE THIS SPORK, AND I WILL CUT YOU AND YOU WILL BLEED!” We are in a lot of urban schools. The only other answer that comes up with any sort of consistency is the old standard “Jump back in front of them.” We’re always quick to point out that this option might lead to even more trouble, but they are first graders, so they already knew that.
After entertaining ideas that are centered around justice and/or revenge, I usually ask them this question: “What if I just let this person stay there in front of me?” …. Blank stares and blinking…. Followed by the question, “Would this solve the problem?” This question is usually met with a resounding “NO!!!” Okay, is there a prize for the first person into the lunch room? No. Is it some sort of race? No. So if you say, “Hey, it’s no big deal. You can stay there,” and you forgive them, will it solve your problem? Well yeah, I guess so….
In the news today, I read a story out of the Middle East about more violence between Israel and Palestine. Something like 200 rockets were fired out of Gaza “in response” to the assassination of a Palestinian militant (the rockets didn’t manage to kill anyone) and then “in response,” Israel killed 26 Palestinian militants. Now please, don’t get me wrong–I’m not suggesting that peace in the Middle East is as simple as saying “Hey, it’s no big deal,” or that centuries of offenses on the part of both sides are as easily overlooked as a kid cutting you in line. I realize that there are many people who are very sensitive about this topic (many whom I consider close friends), and I’m not trying to offend people or make them angry–I just want people to think about it…. Think about what we say when we teach our own children about right and wrong. And how does that line up with what we believe about Israel?
I don’t know how my kids do it, but they seem to have a sixth sense that tells them when I’m sitting down in the bathroom. The moment my cheeks touch the seat, my kids turn our living room into some sort of mixed martial arts cage match. It really is uncanny (so to speak). And the violence is always more intense the longer I’m planning on being…. away. Inevitably, one of my kids will come walking in the bathroom with tears rolling down his or her cheeks to let me know about a crime that has been committed. It will go something like this: Someone took something of someone else’s; that person took it back; an argument over possession ensued; someone got mad and decided to hit someone else; that person hit back–usually drawing blood with some sort of plastic dinosaur–and it ends up with someone telling me about it while I’m trying to poop in peace. My response is always the same: I do not care whose toy it was! I am not interested in who did what first! How many times do I have to tell ALL THREE OF YOU that is is not okay for you to hit each other? What do you not get about this?!?!
I don’t want to be sitting in front of God some day (as he tries to poop in peace) trying to explain who the toy belonged to or who threw the first punch–because I honestly think he doesn’t care about property or if they had it coming. God would probably look at me and say, “How many times do I have to tell you–“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.” What do you not get about this?!?!
Now–Admittedly, if people are playing by those old “eye for an eye” set of rules, it is a whole lot harder to bring peace to a situation like Israel. But we (people who follow Jesus) are not playing by those old rules anymore–we are a “Love your enemy” sort of folk. Unfortunately, this seemingly clear path for the Church gets less clear because many people believe that prophecies state that certain things need to happen in Jerusalem before the world ends/Jesus returns. To be frank–I don’t care anything about this. People have been trying to decipher things that the Bible says about the end of days for 2000 years, and every generation is convinced that THEIRS is the one, that THIS is the time. And so far, they’ve all been wrong. And what we’re left with is a Church that is trying to figure out the mysteries of Judgment Day and the time of Jesus’ return when we can’t even figure out how to love our neighbor.
The Bible says some interesting things about possible roles for Jerusalem, but the Bible says a lot of stuff. So here’s what I believe: The Hope for Peace in Jerusalem is Jesus. There will never be peace in the Middle East without something radical like “loving your enemies” or “forgiving someone 70 x 7 times.” God chose a small group of people to bring a savior. That peculiar group carried the presence of God around with them while they were a people without a land, then they finally built a temple as a house for God’s holiness in Jerusalem. But when Jesus died and the curtain was split, it started a priesthood of all believers—there were not just a few who had access to the holy of holies, but—because of Jesus–all of us can approach God. It went from being something for a small group of people on a small patch of holy land, to being something for ALL people in ALL lands. I don’t believe that Jerusalem is some sort of cosmic linchpin that God is waiting for us to pull. When Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman (in John 4), he said, ““Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem…. the time is coming—indeed it’s here now.” Basically, there is no more Jew or Gentile, there is no more clean and unclean foods, and it doesn’t matter whether you worship in Jerusalem or Cleveland–It’s all the same.
My wife just showed me how to put a video on here, so now would be an awesome time to listen to this song by a guy who is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the best living songwriters–DAVID WILCOX. Seriously, shut up while this song is playing.
Here’s my point: Worrying about Jerusalem out of a place of wanting to be on the right side of some final battle is just completely missing the point. We love Israel for the same reason we love Palestine–Because we love. That’s what we do. And we desire peace. And we long for justice, but not the kind of justice that seeks revenge–that’s not our job–we long for justice and peace for people in Gaza just as strongly as we long for justice and peace for people in Jerusalem. Or Uganda. Or Cleveland.