Jesus Was No Stranger to Persecution and Pain

by Elli Atchison​

palestine soldier

Rembrandt's "Abraham's Sacrifice" (c. 1635) / photo: Israeli soldiers overwhelmed by the smell of dead bodies in Jenin refugee camp, West Bank (2002) by Alexandra Boulat. (This piece is part of an exhibit at the Palestinian Museum — learn more at http://www.palmuseum.org./exhibitions-news/news/in-the-presence-of-the-holy-see-project.)

Jesus was no stranger to persecution and pain. One only has to look at the final days of his ministry to see how he suffered. Jealous Jewish leaders conspired with one of Jesus' own disciples to have him arrested. Though he was unjustly accused and tried in court, "Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge" (Matt. 27:12). He faced an angry mob who chanted for his death, even though the ruling governor found him to be innocent. He was handed over to Roman soldiers who brutally flogged his flesh, beat his body, and mocked his holy name. Finally, Jesus endured the shame and the pain of a criminal's death by hanging on a cross (Matt. 27:12-44).

Throughout this evil tribulation he never once defended himself. He could have called on his Father to send more than 12 legions of angels to defend him (Matt. 26:53). But he did not. He did not raise his hand or even his voice in self-defense. His meekness was the truest sign of strength that the world will ever know.

So what would Jesus say to a Palestinian teen living in Hebron? Hebron is a difficult place for a Palestinian kid to grow up. A Jewish settlement was established within the city almost 50 years ago. The settlers are a small minority of Hebron's population, but their presence is strongly felt and heavily protected. At any given time, there may be hundreds of soldiers patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints within the city. The Palestinian people's movements are closely watched and restricted. There are separate streets, like Al-Shuhada in the heart of the Old City, that Palestinians are not allowed to use. And despite the powerful military presence in Hebron, Jewish settlers are actually permitted to openly carry large weapons as they move freely throughout the city.

Palestinians resent this Israeli presence within the historic West Bank city. Hebron has had historic significance for Jews and Palestinians alike, because it is the burial place of the patriarch Abraham. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Palestinian Arabs and Jews lived side by side in Hebron or Al-Khalil, a city named "friend." During the decades during and following the British mandate, the Arab and Jewish populations of Hebron experienced much turmoil. Although some of the greatest divisions between their communities came with the establishment of the radical settlement of Kiryat Arba. As a result, and following the division of the city in the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian economy has been crippled. Men have a hard time finding jobs that allow them to support their large families. It is not uncommon for boys to drop out of school and work in the streets. They sell trinkets to tourists, trying to help provide for their families.

I imagine that these are the streets where Jesus might be approached by a new friend. The teen, now too old to sell key chains with the boys, would offer him a tour of the Old City in hopes of making a tip from the stranger. They would walk through the streets together, and the teen would talk of his life.

He would tell Jesus a story of how he was once falsely accused of throwing rocks at a settler. Many of his friends do throw stones, but of this infraction, he was innocent. In the middle of the night, soldiers broke into his home and arrested him while he was asleep in his bed. For days he was detained and questioned, with physical force and mental mistreatment, until he finally confessed to a crime that he did not commit.  His confession was that of a frightened boy who just wanted to go home.

This cruel and unjust experience has hardened the teenager's heart. He carries anger and resentment for all the settlers and soldiers he sees. He is now happy to participate in riots and proudly throws stones. The sting of tear gas in his eyes is nothing new and does not deter him.  The teen knows well that these acts are dangerous. But he says, with a man's bravado, that death does not scare him because "this is not a life."

I imagine that Jesus would listen quietly and then share a story of his own. He would tell the young man that he was also arrested for something he did not do.  And he could have fought back but chose not to. "You have heard it was said 'Eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'  But I tell you, do not resist the evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also" (Matt. 5:38-39). The way of nonviolence, in the face of evil, takes far more courage than fighting back ever will.

I also think Jesus would challenge the teen further by sharing a wise lesson he learned in his youth. He would explain that God has actually given him a great opportunity to heap burning coals on the heads of the soldiers and settlers … but it is not through throwing stones. It is actually in the act of showing them kindness. "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat. If he is thirsty give him water to drink" (Proverbs 25:21-22). God will reward you for this

The tour would soon be over. A warm hug would be shared. Jesus would wish peace upon the teen and tell him to take care of himself. And the words of this kind stranger just might begin to soften the young man's heart.

Dear Jesus,

Your Word tells us that those who choose meekness will be blessed and they will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). These are kingdom rules that our world does not understand. Our human nature wants to fight back when our rights are violated. We want justice to come by any means necessary. Please help us to embrace your ways of nonviolence. We especially pray for the Palestinians and Israelis who are challenged to choose this path to peace every day. Violence is easy, peaceful resistance takes far greater strength. Help them to lean on you and trust that kindness and gentleness are stronger than evil in the end.

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.

 

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