Christ at the checkpoint

Do you want to be made well? (John 5:6)

I sat in the quiet of St. Anne's Basilica in in the old city of Jerusalem and remembered the story about Jesus in John 5. It was here, outside by the pools of Bethesda, that Jesus healed the paralyzed man.

"Do you want to be made well," Jesus asked the man? The man was incredulous. Of course, he wanted to be made well. He'd been waiting by the side of the pool for years but no one had been willing to help him in.

"Then stand up, take your mat and walk," Jesus told the man. And immediately the man was made well.

In this land where Jesus once walked, the geopolitical issues are complex. Caught in a web of conflict and violence, both the Jews and Palestinians think this land is theirs. Some Jews, fearful of the rest of the world and supported by American Christians, treat unjustly Palestinians who have also lived in this land for many centuries. And some Palestinians respond in kind.

And these dynamics spill over throughout the Middle East and around the world.

Dr. Jad Isaac told a group of MCCers gathered at Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ) on Friday morning that "the liberation of Palestine will not happen until we liberate the United States and that is the role of the churches." He said he doesn't want a Palestinian state, he wants the end of the occupation, to be able to move around freely. In the West Bank, Christians once accounted for 5% of the population and now that is 1% and still declining.

At the Wi'Am Conflict Resolution Center, Palestinian Christian Zoughby Zoughby told us that, while there is growing frustration in the Palestinian community, there is also a growing interest in nonviolent civil disobedience. " And he proclaimed, "the grave is empty and the resurrection is our hope."

At the Bethlehem Bible College, we heard about an upcoming conference, "Christ at the Checkpoint," designed to help evangelicals to look with new eyes at the sources of conflict in the Middle East. "We see change in churches in the United States," Bishara Awad told us. The college hopes to gather people from all over the world to look at the reconciliation work of the church in Palestine/Israel.

Earlier this week, my group of North Americans entering Israel from the Jordan border were pulled ahead of the line in front of a large group of Palestinians who clearly had been waiting at the border for some time. As I traveled the country the next few days and heard how daily living is made more and more difficult for Palestinians, as I traveled the checkpoints and saw the enormity of the gerrymandered wall created by a fearful Jewish state, it is difficult for me to find the guarded optimism I heard from Palestinian Christians like Dr. Jad and Zoughby and Bishara.

But as I sit in St. Anne's Basilica, I am confronted by Jesus' words and recognize that he is speaking to all who are doubtful and discouraged - "Stand up, take your mat and walk!"

The God of Abraham is still present in this land. Has been and always will be. For Christians, for Jews and for Muslims. What is my role and that of Christians in the United States to help extend God's love to all people who live here?

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