Sacred in the Ruins
Where is God, where is Jesus, what is holy beneath the rubble?
“If Jesus were to be born today, he would be born under the rubble in Gaza.”
So began the December 23rd sermon of Reverend Dr. Munther Isaac at the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. I would eagerly reprint the entirety of what he had to say, but it would fill this newsletter and beyond. So instead I will be reluctantly selective. We should begin here with the core of Dr. Munther’s message, which is that Jesus was “born among the occupied and marginalized. He is in solidarity with us in our pain and brokenness.” As most of you know, I’m Jewish, but I have a great admiration for the teachings of Jesus. I studied religion, mostly Christianity, for two years and my respect for the words that have been passed down to us from Jesus comes from exactly this place. The place of solidarity with the oppressed and a revolutionary reaction to that condition.
The good Reverend was very clear that much of the modern church has strayed far from these teachings, from both the literal and ideological place of its origin. He said that today, “we confront the theology of empire. A disguise for superiority, supremacy, chosen-ness, & entitlement.” This manifests in countless ways. At this moment it manifests in Christian Zionist organizations that fully support Israel, despite Israel attacking churches and killing Christians, concurrent with the mass murder of Muslims and the destruction their mosques. And, as Dr. Munther discussed, Israel also has embraced a theology of supremacy.
We are all called, by this Christmas sermon on Christ in the Rubble, to reconsider our own worldviews. Jews, Christians, and others across the West are called to rethink how we orient ourselves. As the Reverend said, “We the Palestinians will recover. But for those who are complicit, I feel sorry for you—how will you ever recover from this?” And so many of us are complicit in different ways. The funding, the arming, the aiding and abetting of this genocide is being done in many of our names, even if against our will. So we are called to push back against the ideology of supremacy that underpins apartheid and occupation and ethnic cleansing. We are called to reject and dismantle the systemic oppression that allows for the murder of one group to be an atrocity, while the murder of another group is self-defense.
And I know you may not be Christian, you may not be religious at all. But we can all glean something from the real teachings of Jesus even if you, like myself, do not consider him the son of God. Muslims consider him a prophet, and we are in dire times where perhaps we need to look to the wise words of the prophets. Or maybe we can all glean something from him because, as I simply and half-jokingly tell my Catholic partner from time to time, “it seems like Jesus was a good dude who said some good stuff.”
Far and away the biggest reason I think we should care at least a little about Jesus is simply that 2 billion other people do, and therefore he matters. What any group of people collectively beleive in holds power. But why I personally respect and value what Jesus had to say, or supposedly had to say during his life is that Jesus was not just in solidarity with the oppressed, he was of the oppressed and lived in opposition to empire. He was a revolutionary of a spiritual variety that we have seen over the years and centuries, but also one whose teachings have very real and material implications. There is a reason that the first practitioners of Christianity “had everything in common” and “sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them among all, as anyone had need.” And while many today refuse to see the radical truth of the message Jesus preached, this Christmas the genocide in Gaza is bringing a new clarity to his teachings, a lens through which people are forced to see his words. And this clarity is not just coming from Palestinian Christians like Reverend Isaac. The Pope himself said, on Christmas, that the murdered children in Gaza are the Baby Jesuses of today. He’s right in more ways than I can count.
At this point, the question is perhaps not even if the Pope and the Reverend Isaac are correct, because it is clear that Jesus himself stood with the oppressed, was of the oppressed, and resisted empire. It is clear that if he were born today he would be under the rubble of Gaza, or frantically calling his family to see if they were still alive, or stripped down and marched through torn-up streets by the IDF. Or dead. That much is clear. The question is, what do we do? What do we do with a prophet, or a God, or simply a teacher that you might have thought was one of the most important people on this planet, but whose words and followers appear almost impotent in this moment of horror? What do you do?
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