Change takes place over long periods of time and after substantial effort. Nonetheless, change is not impossible. It can and does happen. Once a group or community has progressed upon the pathway to long-term change, the attributes, behaviors, thoughts, and perspective of the desired change must become deeply integrated into the culture of the community. In English we have the expression, “bad habits die hard,” thus the group under the influence of the leadership team, must persistently be reminded of their common vision and purpose. As the above verse mentions, we each play a part in bringing about change. Some, like Paul, play the role of planting the seeds; others, like Apollos water the seed once it has been planted; but ultimately God is the one who makes this grow. God brings about the desired change within individuals and within the world. May we willingly and intentionally embrace the process of change as we submit to the work of God in our lives and in the world.
A justice which includes reconciliation can only be achieved through embrace. “The clenched fist hinders perception of the justice of others and thereby reinforces injustice; the open arms help detect justice behind the rough front of seeming injustice and thereby reinforce justice. To agree on justice in conflict situations you must want more than justice; you must want embrace. There can be no justice without the will to embrace. It is, however, equally true that there can be no genuine and lasting embrace without justice.”
The message of Jesus’ teaching is one that has meaning for us today, especially for those of us who live in a conflict setting. Our identities based on gender, ethnicity, language, culture or belief must give way to a more inclusive identity in the Messiah. This is particularly true for communities like ours, Israeli Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians, who are in conflict with each other. The guiding principles of our engagement with others must be built on moral and ethical behavior, and not conditional on agreement. We are called to turn towards those we are in conflict with and embrace them, just as Esau embraced Jacob (Gen. 33:4) and the Father embraced the prodigal son (Luke 15:20). We must be moved by compassion and love to be neighbors to each other. Israelis must embrace Palestinians, and Palestinians must embrace Israelis. This is God’s command to us, our challenge and our calling.
Justice is one of the central concepts in the Bible, but it is commonly misunderstood. We are reminded over and over in the scriptures that God cares deeply about justice. In fact, justice is one of the defining characteristics of God, and part of the call to repentance is to turn towards justice, and away from evil. We do not understand all of God’s ways, and fall far short of seeing the world as he does. But we can rest assured that God is concerned with justice. According to the usual human understanding of justice, God treated Job unfairly, but this is more a reflection on our poor understanding of God than on God’s injustice. Our understanding is imperfect, and we live in an imperfect world, but we are not alone. When we look for justice in the Bible we see it expressed in many different ways, some may even surprise us. Our attitude must remain humble and open to what God has to show us through his word.
Discouragement is a part of the journey of reconciliation. The process is not easy, and often the emotional toll it takes on participants is high. Involvement in reconciliation, opening up and expressing your opinion, hearing challenging teachings, sometimes having your presuppositions challenged—these all require emotional commitment and emotional engagement from participants.
The proper goal of the memory of wrongs suffered—its appropriate end—is the formation of the communion of love between all people, including victims and perpetrators. Imagine this as a suspension bridge in which the roadway hangs on a concrete arch anchored on both sides of the divide. The roadway is the reflection on memory. The arch that upholds the roadway is the process of reconciliation. The anchors that support the process of reconciliation are on one side the death of the One for the reconciliation of all, and on the other the hope for the world to come as a world of love. Perfect love is the goal of memory. And when that goal is reached, the memory of wrongs itself can end. Put simply, love is the ‘end’ of memory in the twofold sense of that term.
During this Easter and Passover season, people from around the world will be flocking to Jerusalem. This year will be especially crowded as Easter for both church calendars in the Western and Eastern traditions falls on the same day. Palm Sunday is this week, and thousands of visitors and local Palestinian Christians will walk down from the Mount of Olives, through the valley, and up into the Old City of Jerusalem. It is a truly moving sight, with groups of people from all over the world waving palm fronds, singing songs of worship and celebrating the ministry of Jesus and his entry into Jerusalem. It is one of the most vibrant celebrations in the world marking the final week of Jesus’ physical life on earth. You can get a glimpse of the celebration at the end of our video: The Work of Musalaha.
Reconciliation is not possible unless we are comfortable with who we are, and can open ourselves and create space to include others in our identities. Our encounters provide a forum for participants to learn about each other, focus on their common identities, and in the context of relationship, focus on differences. As we learn about one another and our similarities, we begin to open ourselves to embrace. The challenge is then learning the problematic aspects, and wounded parts of identity. It is our goal to help participants learn about one another, and learn the shortcomings of their identities. Only through mutual respect, self-awareness and humility can the reconciliation process move forward. Together these allow us to reclaim our identity and stand mutually affirmed in our identities so we can move forward stronger and more confident of who we are apart and together.
An exclusive focus on the end times and fulfillment of prophecy or on justice and liberation can never be the full picture. Pursuing either one alone, outside the context of the cross, will lead to violence, exclusion and rejection. Whatever our theology, we have to remember God’s love, and God’s commandment for us to love each other. Our aim should be unity through Christ’s love and through the cross, as Jesus called for in John 17:21, saying, “that all of them [believers] may be one, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
The Bible is full of stories of humans interacting with God. Among these interactions, we see hurting people turning to God: asking why, asking for healing or mercy, and pouring out their hearts to God in their confusion and pain. Hannah, David, Solomon, Jeremiah, Peter, Jonah, and even Jesus expressed strong feelings to God and those around them. Psalm 32:3 says “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” Part of dealing with strong emotions of pain and hurt is letting it out, and expressing it to God and trusted friends.