Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,and serve only him.’”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,to protect you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Dripping wet from his baptism, Jesus begins to fast. Lent is often understood as a meditation on Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness, as narrated above (and in Matthew 4). I always admire Jesus’ narrow commitment to his values. It’s almost as if ruling the nations, turning stones into bread, and being saved by angels are not appealing to him! I often find myself scratching my head a bit when reading this story. Jesus is the God of the powerless. But don’t we need power to do good? What is advocacy and activism for justice without the political power Jesus denied? To genuinely love those with and in whom we find Jesus? What about those of us who already lack power and privilege? Why should we give up more than what’s already been taken from us?
At dawn he [Jesus] appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
As we continue to explore spiritual practices this Lenten season, today we consider a Lenten lectionary story about Jesus, which is also a story about Jesus’ commitment to nonviolence. Jesus’ body language says as much as his words. Jesus sits down in the temple courts to teach; this was not uncommon for him. In announcing his fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, Luke writes that Jesus stood up to read the Scripture and sat down to teach on it (Luke 4:17-21). Moses, too, “sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening” (Exodus 18:13).
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.”
For Western Christians, Lent is often a season of lament and mourning. If fasting isn’t difficult, then one should have sacrificed something greater, the thought may go. It is the pain of fasting that brings us closer to God. Many Eastern Christians, though, think of fasting differently. The Orthodox Church observes Great Lent, a seven-week fast in preparation for Easter, as a joyful and celebratory season! The Orthodox Church prepares for Great Lent with four weeks of liturgy, the second of which reflects on the parable of the prodigal son. The parable teaches that returning to the Father is a gift. Fasting during Lent is an act of repentance, but repentance is a joyful occasion because it means reconciliation with God.
A Tale of Two Calendars
Christians throughout the globe believe in the same God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, yet Easter, one of the two most important Christian holidays, is often celebrated on different dates. Orthodox Christians in some parts of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East celebrate Easter later than in the western world. It’s all about the calendar. Christian churches in Western countries use the Gregorian calendar; their fellow believers in Eastern countries follow the Julian calendar.
Ancient Match Sets the Dates of Easter
If it all seems confusing, blame it on the moon—ecclesiastical moons, paschal full moons, the astronomical equinox, and the fixed equinox—are at the root of the complicated dates set for Easter.
A complicated mixture of astronomy, mathematics, and theology that develops an algorithm or recipe fixes Easter’s date following the sun and moon motions. Easter is the first Sunday after the paschal moon, the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. Here’s where it begins to get more confusing.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Many Christians fast to draw near to God. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a season of fasting for many Christians. Ascetic practices like fasting train bodies and minds to focus on the spiritual realm. In many traditions, fasting is accompanied by alms-giving — the money one saves by buying less food is given to the poor who may otherwise go without food. In this way, fasting is an act of solidarity with the poor. Fasting can be an act of solidarity with others, too. While many poor people are hungry against their will, hunger strikers take on hunger to gain public attention and mobilize political action. Many models of nonviolent resistance have turned to the hunger strike to illustrate their deep commitment to their principles or cause.
Home to approximately 40 people, Yanoun is an idyllic small agricultural village from which one can witness some of the most stunning sunrises and warm, generous ahlan wasahlan’s (welcome). However, no more than 500 meters (1640 ft.) to the neighboring hilltops sit the illegal outposts of Itamar, Gavot Olam, Outpost 777, 836, and 782. Yanoun has had a dark history due to these outposts, which are home to some of the most radical Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
In 2002, Israeli settlers invaded the village and forced them out through violence and harassment. Routinely, the settlers would come Saturday evenings with firearms and dogs, beating men in front of their families, damaging village property, and overrunning family homes. They told the people of Yanoun to leave within the week, and the entire village fled. Only with the help of international and Israeli peace organizations providing 24/7 protective presence in Yanoun were the families able to return a year later. Though there have not been any recent outbursts of violence, the settlers continue to deeply impact the villagers through harassment, limiting their freedom of movement, damaging property, and stealing the village’s land.
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) partners with MEJDI tours to offer custom group travel to Israel, Palestine, and other destinations in the Middle East. Trips to the region offer pilgrimages and advocacy-oriented travel. While traveling in the Holy Land, trips provide the chance to hear multi-narrative perspectives through the use of two local guides, one Israeli and one Palestinian. They offer various perspectives on the history and current realities of the land. The following post is from Aziz Abu Sarah, cofounder of Mejdi Tours.
Experts say that travel will never be the same again after COVID-19. While I believe that COVID-19 will inspire some people to rethink their travel habits, we need more than just talking about adjusting our habits when we can travel again.
If we just theorize about “the day after,” no changes are likely to happen. Instead, we need to talk about how to start changing the travel industry right now. This transformation needs a change of heart and mind. For many of us, It feels like our world has shrunk as we are confined in our homes. So, before we talk about how to travel as a peacemaker physically, we should consider how are we traveling now from home.
As a Historic Peace Church, one would rightly expect the Church of the Brethren to highlight the coming of one hailed as the “Prince of Peace.” That the angels proclaim, “Peace on Earth” and not long after, violence would be used by those in power attempting to stifle this coming child. The political and social context then and now make a robust focus on peace a clear need.
We also assert that all theology is practical—what some would call ethics—and as such, that the coming child embodies the fullness of God’s shalom is of immediate relevance for how we live as Christians and the church in the world. In another context I have defined peace as:
Peace is the presence of wholeness in relationships that are characterized by justice, mutuality, and wellbeing. Peace is not a universal or homogenous experience but is experienced in the appreciation and celebration of diversity and between individuals, communities, nations, and with the environment (non-human world).
We’ve been waiting a long time for Jesus to return. I’m starting to feel like we’ve been stood up. What would it mean to give up on the notion that Jesus shall return to make it all okay?
Some time ago, I rejected the terrible vision of Jesus’ return as laid out in the book of Revelation. I recognize that the gospels occasionally present Jesus as endorsing violence against those who are opponents of the kingdom of God. I can even imagine that some kind of “crushing of the enemies of the kingdom” was a part of Jesus’ worldview. But I don’t think it is Jesus’ best material, and I see the cross and resurrection as a rejection of this way of thinking. At the moment where we might imagine God intervening to vanquish the enemies of God’s kingdom, God is absent. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus declares that he has been forsaken by God. At the meal that celebrates God’s violent intervention to save the Jewish people, Jesus asks his followers to remember the moment when God did not choose to intervene violently. Jesus’s death is not necessary; it is tragic. Jesus dies in solidarity with all victims of violence, especially the victims of state and religious violence. We should be horrified at Jesus’s death and should vow to stop the senseless scapegoating of other humans. In this way, the resurrection can be understood as God’s rejection of the cross as a means of keeping the peace.
The idiom “the other side of the tracks” usually refers to a line of demarcation and separation, often actually railroad tracks, between the more affluent part of a town from a more impoverished area. The separation is often both economic and racial/ethnic. Depending on which side you are on, you either have an acute awareness of the other side—its influence and control on your life—or you have some vague stereotypical ideas of a place you rarely go.
Palestinians know and understand the idiom well, simply by changing one word, “tracks” to “wall,” referring to the separation barrier/wall that Israel began to build in 2002. The separation is also psychological between Israelis and Palestinians. Between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the barrier is a 30-foot high concrete wall.