Today the United States dedicated its embassy in Israel, which relocated from TelAviv to Jerusalem. At a grand ceremony, many influential people spoke, frequently invoking God’s name, praying or quoting scripture. More than one mentioned the words of Psalm 122 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.
Calling a group of words a “prayer” and closing your eyes while you utter them does not make your words holy. It certainly doesn’t fool the Holy One, who sees into our hearts and is aware of our actions and intentions.
While the ceremony of self-congratulation was underway in Jerusalem, some 40 miles away Israelis were firing tear gas onto Palestinian demonstrators along the Gaza strip, killing (as of this writing) 52 people.
The timing of the event was purposeful, corresponding with the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel (May 14, 1948). Of course, the next day, May 15, is commemorated by the Palestinians as the Nakba, the Day of Catastrophe. The symbol of the Nakba is a key because the Palestinians were forced out of their homes and never allowed to return. Israel awarded the Right of Return to all Jews, which was the right thing to do. However they took that same right from the Palestinians. How is that right?
The status of Jerusalem is particularly delicate because it belongs to neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis. Technically it is a city for all people and is under the jurisdiction of the United Nations. Jerusalem is a particularly juicy morsel to tussle over. That much is apparent, even to those with only a cursory knowledge of the area’s complicated history.
Only those who are purposefully ignorant can pretend that the moving of the embassy on this day was not a deliberate act of provocation by our government. Despite all the rhetoric, this was not a move toward peace. It was not done to prosper all Jerusalemites. This relocation was done to advance a political agenda that loves peace and prosperity for some, but not all.
One of my favorite places in Israel is just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives. It’s along a well worn pilgrimage road that slopes up and away from the Lion’s Gate. Dominus Flevit is a small chapel which is shaped like a tear and commemorates where Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
Matthew records it this way:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
I would like to sit in that chapel and weep. Here at home it is difficult for me to channel my angry tears into prayers. I see the images of the people killed in the last 24 hours while those in power wear smug smiles and quote Psalm 122. Those verses seem worn from mindless repetition and tainted from the company they keep. What do those words mean in today’s context? I cannot believe that Jesus prayed for peace for some, and not all; for prosperity for some, and not all.
Maybe I don’t need to dry my angry tears, not yet. Anger is fuel, and has lessons to teach.