“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
I find the lectionary readings for this Sunday very difficult and challenging to accept…
“Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven” 1 Kings 8
When I read about Solomon dedicating the temple in First Kings, I recall my recent visit to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. The last standing remnant of the Jewish temple, the Western Wall absorbs prayers of sorrow and frustration from hundreds of Jews, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
I visited several holy sites: where Christ was born, where Christ performed miracles, where Christ died, and even where Christ resurrected. But I experienced the sacred most tangibly at the Western Wall, where Jews gave G-d their raw anger, their misery, their deepest longings and their gratitude.
“How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!
…For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room,
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked”
Standing before the Western Wall was like standing before the threshold of the house of my God. How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!
However, I encountered another Wall during my visit to Israel-Palestine: the massive 25 foot West-Bank Barrier segregating Israel from the Occupied Territories of Palestine. Deemed the Apartheid Wall, the Barrier was constructed by the Israeli government for “security reasons.” However, in the name of security, Palestinians are denied basic access to resources and roads and then crammed into highly bureaucratic checkpoints run by anti-Palestinian racists.
And on both sides of the Apartheid Wall, we met Palestinians who had been violently removed from their homes and forced to live in tents. Many of these Palestinians watched their homes be demolished. And some of these homes were demolished in order to make room for the enormous plaza in front of the Western Wall!
“[It is better] to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked”
When I read these verses, I am reminded of the Palestinians I met living in tents and the racism, violence and dehumanization that they suffer from at the hands of Jewish and Christian Zionists and the Israeli government (“those who dwell in the tents of the wicked”). The Palestinians that I met dwelling in tents were not wicked. They were kind human beings with noble hearts, beautiful children and heartbreaking stories of both loss and resilience.
“And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land” Joshua 24:18
Verses like these fuel Zionism in both Jewish and Christian circles. Just as the Amorites lived in the land and Yahweh drove them out so were the Palestinians driven out of the land in which they lived. And many believe that Yahweh supports and inspires the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homes.
“And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Palestinians who lived in the land”
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and will save those whose spirits are crushed. Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the LORD will deliver him out of them all” Psalm 34:18-19
The Palestinians’ hearts are broken and their spirits are crushed under the oppression of the Israeli government. I met many Palestinian Christians who seek to live godly lives of righteousness, worthy of the kingdom of heaven. And many of their homes have been demolished, their families have separated, their access to water has been limited and regulated, their roads have been blockaded, their elders have been humiliated and their children have been denied access to hospitals. Their troubles are many, but will the LORD deliver them?
Or is the LORD too busy delivering the Jewish people, who also have broken hearts and crushed spirits, from their centuries of many troubles?
And what does Jesus have to say about all of this?
We have passages of Scripture that are being used today among Jewish and Christian Zionists to encourage racism, jingoism, elitism, violence, and dehumanization. God’s chosen people are driving out people from their homes, relegating them to horrible living conditions and treating them as sub-human. And this done in the name of God, using some of the same Scriptures in today’s lectionary.
So what does Jesus say to us in today’s Gospel?
He says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
Jesus’ description of the Eucharist sounds a lot like cannibalism to his disciples. Jesus understands that most people will listen to him superficially and, as a result, be offended. Many of his disciples said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
These disciples respond like thousands of people who react to religious teaching and especially Christian teaching by saying, “Who can accept this? Religion has brought about more violence, suffering and division than anything else.”
As we have just read, verses in Scripture have been used to justify racism and ethnic cleansing. Leading atheist Richard Dawkins, who clearly does not accept any religious teaching, writes, “The god of the Old Testament has got to be the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it, petty, vindictive, unjust, unforgiving, racist, an ethnic-cleanser urging his people on to acts of genocide.”
Wouldn’t it be easier and safer for us to forget about religion? Wouldn’t it be safer to ignore the Old Testament which encourages Zionists to oppress Palestinians? Wouldn’t it be easier to ignore these esoteric teachings about eating a rabbi’s flesh and drinking a rabbi’s blood? Wouldn’t it be less offensive and divisive?
Thousands have agreed that it would be easier for them to forget about religion and Christianity. They have left the Church and they have turned their back on Christ.
And perhaps they have lived simpler and happier lives as a result. I do not know.
But when I feel tempted to leave, I hear Jesus ask the same question that he asked his disciples in today’s Gospel, “Do you also wish to go away?”
Do you also wish to go away?