"And who is my neighbor?" an expert of the law asks in fury, annoyed with Jesus' message and behavior that frustrates every notion of conventional "righteousness" (Luke 10:29). Jesus embarks on one of his breathtaking stories about a man, a "righteous" man, apparently the hero of the narrative, suddenly transformed into the "enemy," replaced by a new hero, a Samaritan, an "unrighteous" man. New Testament scholars have pointed out that in this story, the man called to love his enemy is not the Samaritan, but actually the man who lay wounded, stripped of his clothes, half dead. For he, rather than the Samaritan, is the character in the story with whom Jesus' audience would have been able to identify. By inviting the wounded to accept to be helped by his conventional enemy, Jesus calls every one of us to accept to be helped by God, the "outcast," whom we have rejected.
I was overwhelmingly surprised by the responses I got the last two days from people who had read my Christianity Today article. Most were grateful for an alternative voice to what they usually read and hear. I write this text at the closing of a weekend spent responding individually to most of nearly a hundred emails that I got.
David Gushee's gracious response also, in his "Open Letter to Dr. Martin Accad" that Christianity Today published, gives me the desire to be picked up from the roadside despite my wounds. At the end of this weekend I have more hope, because I have discovered life in a part of the church's heart that I had thought dead. Thanks, David, and thank you to the new friends I have made.
If so many in the church in the U.S. actually care enough to listen and respond to a Middle Eastern Arab Christian cry, then perhaps there is enough hope, will and faith in this church to lean over the wounded "enemy" in the Middle East so that the universal church can address injustice and somehow bring to a halt this deliberate targeting of faith communities.
Setting the Record Straight on a Few Points
Through the responses that I received, it became clear to me that there are many misunderstandings about certain realities in the Middle East. The first has to do with the use of the term "terrorist." The term has been so grossly misused for political rhetoric in the past few years that only those who are willing to question deeply-rooted conventions will be able to hear me. "Terrorist" cannotshould notbe used as a noun or in the substantive. It can only be an adjective to describe an act. The fact is that the "terrorists" of one group are the "heroes" of another. The French resistance that used terrorist methods in their resistance to Nazi occupation would have retained their 'terrorist' label had their enemies eventually won World War II. Anti-apartheid units that used terrorist methods in their fight against racism in South Africa also only became heroes after they achieved victory. Examples are endless, but the point is that whenever an armed force carries out military operations so indiscriminate that they repeatedly result in the killing of non-combatant civilians, these should be called "terrorist" acts. On the Lebanese front, the media says that about 35 Israeli and more than 350 Lebanese non-combatants have been killed, with hundreds more injured and hundreds of thousands displaced. Ms. Ansari, Middle East and North Africa program director of Save the Children, U.K., said her "contacts in Lebanon reckoned that up to 45 percent of the casualties were youths." That is about 150 children, up to one hundred families left childless. All of these are acts of terror, and they are still going on, and the international community has been unable (or rather unwilling) to take a decisive stance by calling for a ceasefire.
As for the "real" profile of your so-called "terrorist," come with me to the Beirut suburbs or to the villages of South Lebanon or to some parts of the Bekaa Valley. I will introduce you to many of my friends who eat the same food you do, watch the same movies, share your humanity, and yet happen to be staunch adherents to a group called Hezbollah. Contrary to many corrupt and double-faced political entities and ideologies in the Middle East, Hezbollah have been active in their social and educational programs, coherent in their message, and uncompromising in their political and militant stance. Whatever one's opinion is of the groupand I, for one, am not a fanin a country where war and occupation have often left a vacuum in entire regions of government, it is these characteristics of Hezbollah that have made it so popular to a majority of the most underprivileged, who happen also to be the most sizeable community in the Lebanese population: Shiites. The reality is that practically every man in almost every family in these regions belongs to the militant group that was first born in an effort to resist Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon in 1982. After having breakfast with them in Beirut, you and I would then sip on a strong black coffee on the plastic chairs of a sidewalk café in the Beirut suburbs and reflect on the tragedy that when Israel and some Western nations promised to get rid of Hezbollah, they effectively vowed the extermination of about a third of the Lebanese population! About 700,000 have been displaced from the South, the Bekaa Valley in East Lebanon, and the Beirut suburbs, and have taken refuge north and east of Beirut. Seven hundred thousand out of a total Lebanese population of 3.5 million, 20 percent of the population, mostly Shiites, are now being cared for and given refuge by mostly Christian schools, churches, and other humanitarian organizations. This is the story of the Good Samaritan at a mega scale! And to think that this is the outcome of a strategy that meant to rouse anti-Hezbollah feelings among the Lebanese population and government. Talk about a failed strategy! Of course, this has happened so many times before that any thoughtful tactician would have learned the lesson by now, but military muscle is always too hedonistic and narcissistic to listen to the voice of reason and history.
The Meeting of Two RadicalChristian and MuslimEschatologies
Let me get apocalyptic for a few lines. Last week, David Gushee noted the "disturbing," yet apparently "reliable," reports that Iran's president, Ahmadinejad, adhered to "an apocalyptic form of Islam that envisions such massive destruction as a prelude to the return of the hidden Imam who will then guide all humanity." As a matter of fact, mainstream Islamic eschatology can be read in numerous classical Islamic works. Aall agree that at the end times the "hidden Imam" or "expected Mahdi" will return, accompanied by Prophet 'Issa (the Qur'anic name for Jesus), and standing over Jerusalem, together they will establish the "true religion," punish unbelievers, and rule over God's "faithful." So the fact that Ahmadinejad would believe this is not surprising. What is frightening, however, is that, as Gushee points out in his "Open Letter" of July 21, the "apocalyptic messianism" of an astounding number of evangelical Christians also involves "elaborate end-times scenarios that conveniently involve apocalyptic warfare in the Middle East," and these scenarios are playing right into the hands of Israeli politics (to use a neutral term). Looking at these two currents in parallel, we actually get the impression that we are watching two screenwriters attempting to outwit one another, by giving free play to their imagination in developing the gloomiest scenario possible. Unfortunately for those of us living in the Middle East, the part we are given is to be mere props in this massive nightmare production.
The Jesus Vision
But leaving the big children to play with their toys and end-time scenarios, what can we do, those of us whoas Gushee so graciously puts itstill hold on to "the hope of contributing to the edification of Christ's body and the healing of our suffering world"? I suggest that we set off on a different walk, this time not through the Beirut suburbs, but through the streets of Jerusalem and in the company of our Lord Jesus. As his disciples walked along with him and pointed out to him the greatness of the temple stones, Jesus answered: "Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down" (Matt 24:2). In another place, Jesus, addressing the crowds, made the shocking statement: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19). John, the Gospel writer, indicates that by these words "he was speaking of the temple of his body" (John 2:21). We then learn from the Gospel of Mark that this statement eventually cost Jesus his life, as witnesses accused him in front of the high priest's Council: "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands'" (Mark 14:58).
Not until their encounter with the resurrected Christ did Jesus' disciples understand that their hearts were to be attached to him, to his life-giving Cross and Resurrection, to his heavenly kingdom, and not to land and holy places. How much time will it take us? How many more times will we crucify Jesus for his blasphemous words against our petty thinking?
So then, who is your neighbor? Or rather, in Jesus' terms: "Who are my enemies?"
My deepest admiration goes to my Christian friends and co-workers in Lebanon. They have overcome years of civil strife that built walls of fear between different religious communities in Lebanon and have become "innkeepers," opening their hearts to the needy and displaced, regardless of community affiliation. Are we, as Christians everywhere, willing to do the unthinkable and lean over those whom our conventional leaders are calling "our enemies"? Could it be that the Gospel actually calls us to put down our guns and take up instead a passion for justice and care for human life?
When the latest conflict broke out in Lebanon, 70 Western nationals (among them many Americans) got stranded at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, where they were holding a regional conference. For the next few days before their evacuation, they supported the suffering and displaced with prayer, humanitarian relief, and human touch.
Here is how you can be involved as well:
1) Pray for the displaced, injured, and mourning who are living in areas that are being subjected daily to heavy shelling.
2) Pray that the Church in Lebanon will be "salt and light" to the community, that God would be glorified in all that is said and done.
3) Go to the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary website and ask them for their regular updates on the relief efforts.
4) Find out which other organizations are doing relief work in Lebanon and get involved in moral and financial support.
Today is the twelfth day that Lebanon is under siege. How long will it take for us to reach out?
Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
More articles on the fighting in Lebanon include:
The Silent Human Conscience | What should I tell my daughter when bombs fall and the great nations say nothing? (July 24, 2006)
We Risk Not Just Suffering, But Annihilation | An open letter to Dr. Martin Accad. (July 21, 2006)
Prince of Peace's Hometown Bombarded | Missiles' booms sound the alarm to our forsaken responsibility of peace making. (July 21, 2006)
Another Point of View: Evangelical Blindness on Lebanon | The academic dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary is angry at evangelical Christians, Israel, Hezbollah, the U.S., and the international community. (July 20, 2006)
Weblog: Secrets of the Lebanon-Israel War | Beyond the headlines in the Lebanon-Israel War (July 20, 2006)
When the Bombs Fell on Beirut | This week's fighting between Israel and Lebanon seems too familiar. (July 17, 2006)
The Middle East's Death Wishand Ours | We say "everyone wants peace," but we also want to see our enemies destroyed. (July 14, 2006)