Jesus Was No Stranger to Persecution and Pain
Written by Elli Atchison and Molly Lorden
“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’”
Luke 23: 44-47
Jesus was no stranger to persecution and pain. Though he was unjustly accused and tried in court, “Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge” (Matt. 27:12). He faced an angry mob who chanted for his death, even though the ruling governor found him to be innocent. He was handed over to Roman soldiers who brutally flogged his flesh, beat his body, and mocked his holy name. Finally, Jesus endured the shame of a criminal’s death by hanging on a cross. (Matt. 27:12-44)
Throughout this evil tribulation he never once defended himself. He could have called on his Father to send more than twelve legions of angels to defend him (Matt. 26:53). But he did not. He did not raise his hand or even his voice in self defense. His meekness was the truest sign of strength that the world will ever know.
It is difficult to find a place where the conflict is more palpable, than in the city of Hebron, in the West Bank. A Jewish settlement was established within the city almost 50 years ago. The settlers are a small minority of Hebron’s population, but their presence is strongly felt and heavily protected. At any given time, there may be hundreds of soldiers patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints within the city. The Palestinian people’s movements are closely watched and restricted. There are separate streets, like Al-Shuhada in the heart of the Old City, that Palestinians are not allowed use. And despite the powerful military presence in Hebron, Jewish settlers are actually permitted to openly carry large weapons as they move freely throughout the city.
Palestinians resent this Israeli presence within the city. Hebron has historic significance for Jews and Palestinians alike because it is the burial place of the patriarch Abraham. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Palestinian Arabs and Jews lived side-by-side in Hebron or Al-Khalil, a city named “friend.” In the decades during and following the British mandate, the Arab and Jewish populations of Hebron experienced much turmoil. Although some of the greatest divisions between their communities came with the establishment of the radical settlement of Kiryat Arba. Following the division of the city in the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian economy in Hebron has been crippled. Men have a hard time finding jobs that allow them to support their large families. It is not uncommon for boys to drop out of school and work in the streets. They sell trinkets to tourists, trying to help provide for their families.
The experience of a Palestinian teen in Hebron might go something like this. The young man was once falsely accused of throwing rocks at a settler. Many of his friends do throw stones, but of this infraction, he was innocent. In the middle of the night, soldiers broke into his home and arrested him while he was asleep in his bed. For days he was detained and questioned, with physical force and mental mistreatment, until he finally confessed to a crime that he did not commit. His confession was that of a frightened boy who just wanted to go home.
This experience has hardened the teenager’s heart. He carries anger and resentment for all the settlers and soldiers he sees. He is now happy to participate in riots and proudly throws stones. The sting of tear gas in his eyes is nothing new and does not deter him. The teen knows well that these acts are dangerous. But he says, with a man’s bravado, that death does not scare him because “this is not a life.”
How do we, as Christians, respond to the kind of injustices many teens in Hebron, and the occupied Palestinian territories, experience? First, we must listen quietly to their stories. As we listen, we remember Jesus who was also persecuted. We remember how he responded to persecution. He did not defend himself, but turned his cheek. We do not presume to tell these teens how to react to the persecution in their lives. However, by listening to their stories, we offer an alternative to violence. We offer a safe space to process and to express their anger. And, we work alongside them for peace in their communities. And, we remind ourselves that there aren’t two sides to the conflict; instead, there are those who advocate for peace and justice, and those who don’t. There is great brokenness and beauty on each side.
We pray for Palestinian and Israeli teens who are challenged to choose the path to peace every day. Violence is easy, peaceful resistance takes far greater strength. You tell us that those who choose meekness will be blessed and they will inherit the earth. (Matt. 5:5) Teach us what it means to embrace your ways of nonviolence, and to stand alongside those who experience persecution in the Holy Land.
In your holy name we pray, Amen.
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Elli Atchison is the Ambassador of Donor Engagement at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). Molly Lorden is the Church Engagement & Millennial Voices for Peace Intern at CMEP, and is also currently studying toward a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary.
CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.