Palestine Sun Bird Christians have a revelation of Israel. What is needed is a revelation of the plight of the Palestinians. In the previous post we considered why the political theology of Christian Zionism can be used to support a terribly disturbing political militancy against the Palestinian population in the Middle East, a population that includes Palestinian Christians. This alone should give American Christians pause. Do they want to endorse a theology of brother against brother? Further, Palestinian Christians of all denominations in Palestine stand united against the theology, which they consider a “false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation” (from: The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism).

God’s call to “love, justice, and reconciliation” is, of course, central to the entire biblical narrative. It is such a huge area human responsibility – the subject of countless books and seminary courses, for example – that we cannot possibly delve into it here, in a short blog post. But let’s look at it in its most concentrated form, in the ethic of Jesus in the Gospels, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. (You may want to see the posts on Jesus’ way of reasoning as a teacher of wisdom in ancient Palestine, for I am trying to think from within that way here.) And let’s make it practical.

When Jesus called peacemakers blessed, when he emphasized turning the other cheek, when he commanded love of enemies, when he required sheathed swords of those who would follow him –  Jesus was talking about self-sacrifice. That is, he was throwing down the gauntlet to us at the deepest depths of our being.

The one whom the New Testament calls the wisdom – not the theology – of God was challenging his listeners at the core of their being: What do you want to live by? he was in essence asking them. Do you want to feed off of the desires in you that can alienate, hate, make enemies, fuel violence? Or do you want to live by my gospel-shaped wisdom, by inner motivations of love and reconciliation? What interests you, an ontology of violence or an ontology of peace?

Jesus’ ethic challenges the heart because it is deeply personal and utterly practical. True, no one lives consistent with it, but those who accept Jesus at his word must make a start and keep going. Many of us today, however, have restricted the ethic of Jesus to his audiences in ancient Palestine. We keep it filed “back there,” in that historical period. After all, it might get rather uncomfortable for us if we try to live it today, as individuals and churches, toward the peoples of Palestine.

Let’s think just about Jesus’ peacemakers, or peaceworkers. Christian Zionism as a theology of war opposes this norm of the ethic of Jesus. Peacemaking is about reconciliation, and reconciliation may be the most fundamental characteristic of the gospel of Jesus. I imagine Jesus asking: What are you doing to help reconciliation move forward between the Palestinians and the Jews in the Middle East?

Let Us Beat Our Swords into PloughsharesPeople go to war against enemies. I do not see how anyone who supports Christian Zionism as a war theology is not counting the Palestinians as hated enemies. I imagine Jesus asking comfortable American supporters of Christian Zionism: What did the Palestinians ever do to you? Can you pick up a gun against them? No? Then why are you in league with a theology that is on that trajectory?

Even if they were personal enemies, turning the other cheek is part of an ethic that calls its followers to eschew a traditional principle of self-defense and then to go further and love enemies. We may want to rationalize it away – it’s an exaggeration, it’s impractical, it was for another time – yet there it is in the ethic of Jesus. I imagine Jesus asking Christian Zionists: What are you doing about loving the Palestinians?

Maybe you can’t go this far, yet, on the path of self-sacrificing love. But you can make a start by choosing to stop mentally supporting a theology of war. Loving actions will eventually follow that decision. In the meantime, a huge step has been taken.

Turning from Christian Zionism is not about hurting Israel or bringing a curse on you. It is about leveling the playing field, raising the Palestinian issue on a level with Israel. The ethic of Jesus calls for showing the same kind of impartiality to friends and enemies that God shows all to all peoples everywhere in his distribution of sun and rain. With this posture we give further witness to our lives as followers of Jesus. To love one’s enemies is to express in the worst of conditions the best of the love of the Father in heaven.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image of the Palestinian Sun Bird by David King (permission via Creative Commons)


©2014 by Charles Strohmer

tikun olamOne of the ways we learn wisdom is from other people. I’m a big believer in that. It happens to me so often I could write a book about it! Sometimes the received wisdom is so pertinent to something I am doing that it is utterly amazing. Fills in a huge blank in my thinking.

So, a story about one time. I occasionally have conversations about the wisdom tradition with Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, a friend who is a gifted negotiator and mediator. During dinner a kosher deli in Washington DC, we were discussing shalom as human flourishing and the conversation came around to Rabbi Jesus as a teacher of wisdom who emphasized shalom. Later, back home, while writing a magazine article about Jesus and politics, I wanted to include some thoughts about shalom and tikkun olam (the Hebrew phrase for “repairing the world”). But I was stuck. It’s never fun getting stuck when you are under a deadline!

Something was missing in my understanding of tikkun olam, so I shot off an email to Arnie. This led to a fascinating email conversation for a couple of days. The penny dropped for me when Arnie explained that the opposite of shalom is not violence or war but brokenness. “There is no shalom,” he said, “even if bullets are not flying, if hearts, minds, souls, or even dreams, are still broken. We, as God’s partners (according to Jewish theology) must help mend and repair the brokenness in the world.” That piece of wisdom helped me finish the article.

Tikkun olam (repairing the world) appears in many contexts in rabbinic literature and in Judaism for building Jewish societies of love, peace, justice, kindness, and generosity, and also for influencing the greater welfare of the world at large. (Some rabbis see the Sabbath as a kind of rehearsal for the coming for the messianic age of shalom, with the practice of tikkun olam during the preceding six days of the week as anticipating that future.)

I do not know if Jesus ever used the phrase tikkun olam, but its meaning sure seems to me to describe what he was on about as a teacher of wisdom during his itinerant ministry in the towns and on the hillsides of Galilee and Judea. You cannot read the Gospels without seeing Jesus continually urging his mixed audiences to get their act together> Jesus is frequently urging people to work more willingly and tirelessly to heal their relationships, love neighbor, and practice shalom in their communities. That might not repair the entire world, but it would repair the world around them. And that’s a pretty big deal.

Jesus was not being idealistic or utopian. Like the sages of old, he was realistic about human nature. He knew its limits and its penchant to turn ugly. Yet it is clear that Jesus’ gospel-shaped wisdom, even amid the highly-charged throes of the religious and political alchemy of Palestine under Roman rule, always meant putting away the sword. If there is any one first step toward the practice of shalom today, surely it is this.

Jesus oft-quote admonition to “put away the sword” came during his own end-times, just before his death on the cross. It hearkens back with perfect pitch to the beginning of his public ministry to what may be the most oft-quoted of Jesus’ words heard in the world today. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said to what may well have been the largest mixed multitude ever assembled to hear him (Matthew 5:9).

The peace he spoke of on that mountainside was not that of the Pax Romana. Neither would it square with the Pax Americana of our time. It is the peace of shalom. Of repairing the world around us.

The agency of wisdom urges us in the here and now, amid our own diversity, to seek to repair adversarial or broken relationships and situations. It seems to me that if there is any first step toward that today, it must begin by putting away our swords, figuratively and literally, and become blessed peacemakers.

©2017 by Charles Strohmer

A note from Charles: For more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, try following the blog for a while, to see if you like it. You can always unfollow anytime. Just click here, find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice when I post a new article. And, hey, if you like this stuff, tell a friend! Thank you.