Jesus Was No Stranger to Life Under Occupation
by Elli AtchisonEvery two years, the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference takes place in Bethlehem, seeking to give a voice to the Palestinian Christian perspective of the conflict by asking, “What would Christ say and do if he were to stand at a checkpoint today?” This question has been offensive to many who believe that to listen to the voices of Palestinian Christians somehow negates the legitimate suffering of Jews and Christians in Israel. That is not the intent. Christ would be found at the checkpoint, just as he would be found at the bedside of a grieving Jewish mother who lost the life of her child in a recent military campaign. May we courageously be willing to enter into all of these horrific places of suffering, just as Jesus did during his time on earth.
At Christ at the Checkpoint, Christian leaders from various theological perspectives offer their thoughts and ideas. Activists listen and discuss possible solutions to the conflict and ways the Christian community can engage. But truly, this question requires deep personal reflection on the Gospels, and it offers no easy answers. Other prayers in this series will reflect on Christ on the Gaza Border and Christ at the Parent’s Circle. Christ did not come for one people group who suffer, but for all who are brokenhearted.
When we compare the land in Jesus’ time and the political climate it suffers under today, we can easily see many parallels. The historic Holy Land, Judea, had been under the occupation of the Roman Empire before Jesus was even born. Rome kept control over the Jewish population with cruel tactics and exorbitant taxes. The Jews were second-class citizens in their own land, forced to show respect to a Roman Emperor in addition to their God. They were miserable about their lives, and angry Jewish Zealots were highly motivated to fight for freedom. You can change the names of those in power and those who are oppressed, but looking at the Holy Land today, you will find many parallels.
Jesus was the perfect blend of the land and culture. Jesus was born in Nazareth. He spoke the Syrian language of Aramaic and was Jewish by faith and culture. And Jesus was no stranger to life under occupation. He came for a single purpose and he announced it publicly at the beginning of his ministry. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, he announced his mission to
proclaim good news to the poor,
proclaim freedom for the prisoners,
give sight to the blind,
set the oppressed free,
and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:35)
Fellow Jews had high hopes that this was the man who might finally lead the revolt and overthrow Rome. But, Jesus had a much different revolution in mind. His priority was not to reclaim the promised land from the fists of the Romans and re-establish a Jewish nation. He came to reclaim the hearts of all people and establish the Kingdom of God.
With this premise in mind, I’d like to imagine what Jesus would say to the people in Israel and Palestine today, both of whom are suffering under unjust political policies that currently have no hope for peace. Let’s take a walk with him through the land and imagine some of the conversations that might take place with the hurting people he would encounter today.
As we reflect on the conflict in the Holy Land today help us to see it through your eyes. Prepare our hearts to walk with you today. We pray the Holy Spirit will empower us to use Scripture in a way that is true to your message and love for all people.
In your holy name we pray, Amen.
Elli Atchison is an ambassador for World Vision, working alongside the advocacy team to promote peace and justice in the Holy Land for all God’s people, especially children. This Holy Week meditation originally appeared at Prayers for the Holy Land.
See all the parts of Atchison’s “Jesus Was No Stranger To…” series.