When Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem riding, not on a majestic horse with an army behind him, but on a colt with people spreading their garments before him, he showed himself to be a very different kind of king. It was not about power and might but humility and service. And in the “way” he entered Jerusalem, he challenged the established order of Rome. The Pharisees recognized that and told Jesus to get his disciples to stop. Their acclamations would cause problems with the authorities of the day. Jesus’ response in Luke 19:40 was,” I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” The way of Jesus, the good news he came to proclaim and live was that the reign of God had come near. This truth was a light not to be put under a bushel, but must be proclaimed.
I often hear the desire to separate the “gospel” from “social justice” or “politics” (which, contrary to the way we often use the word, is not about “partisan” politics but how we live together as a society in the public realm). The fear is that we might rock the boat or upset people with different interpretations and understandings. And so, we don’t talk about controversial issues in church.
While traveling in Palestine in January, I heard the story of a single mother who must drive
two hours to get to her job as the school principal instead of the 30-minute drive it should be if she weren’t Palestinian because of roadblocks and checkpoints. I heard stories of young Palestinian youth who carry their last will and testament in their pockets in case they are shot or killed by Israeli soldiers. I heard stories of children who have never seen the ocean or the mountains in their own country because they cannot get permits to cross checkpoints. There has been and continues to be a lot of controversy about the situation in Israel. But these stories reminded me that we are talking about people, our neighbors that Jesus calls us to love.
At a visit to the office of an organization in Jerusalem that documents the human rights violations of the state of Israel, we asked the director, a Jewish Israeli citizen, why he did this work. “My grandparents survived the holocaust. That horrific event happened in part because people kept silent in the face of atrocities and injustice. I cannot do that today. I must speak up.”
The way of Jesus compels us to speak up on behalf of our neighbor, on behalf of justice. The situation in Israel is complicated and challenging, as is often the case in matters that require us to work for justice. Different voices, concerns, and actions offer solutions that can and do put us in conflict with one another. But the way of Jesus is not one of comfort and ease but a way of life that leads us into the public realm to stand with and for our neighbors in need. That is justice. That is the gospel. And that is the work of the church.