Editor’s Note: EPF PIN member Dick Toll shared his sermon from 25 September at Spirit of Grace Lutheran/Catholic Community.
My name is Richard Toll, I am a retired Episcopal Priest having been ordained for 49 years. My first trip to the Holy Land was 33 years ago and I have taken over 30 trips to the region since then. I have studied at our college there, I have taken church groups, I have been to 8 Sabeel International Conferences and have visited Gaza 4 times, the last visit to Gaza was last spring a year ago.
My task for today it to speak to nonviolence and nonviolent actions and to do so in the context of Israel and Palestine. Not an easy task but an issue that I am more than willing to address.
First of all, to read from today’s Gospel Matthew 38 thru 44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you. Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
These words come from the Sermon on the Mount one of the most important teachings offered by anyone, anywhere and have influenced humanity as ripples extending out over time into individual lives and cultures that can only be measured as we look at ourselves and our faith communities. Yes. These words alone have influenced humankind and still do.
It is out of the mouth of Jesus who as a Jewish person under Roman military occupation has every right to seek retribution and relate to the Old Testament teaching of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But no….this Jesus we listen to has lived for 33 years under Roman military occupation. He has especially seen what the military occupation has done to the Jewish people in the Galilee. He has watched friends and neighbors be arrested, tortured, crucified. Many of his followers have tried to convince him that there must be a violent revolution in order to rid themselves of the hated Roman dominance.
Jesus is the one we claim to be the reflection and image of the Living God. Living amongst us, flesh of our flesh, teaching, preaching, giving himself for us so that we might know life in all of its fullness. His way of doing that is to show us the path to nonviolence.
The Church over the centuries has had great difficulty in coming to terms with the nonviolence taught by Jesus. The human instinct is to move toward violence, punishment, control, dominance……as our answer to the need to be in charge.
In the early years of Christianity, one of the criteria of being a follower of Jesus was to NOT serve in the Roman army.
Church history shows us what happened as the Church became the official religion of the Roman empire in the 4th century AD. We see witnesses such as Francis of Assisi come to the forefront of nonviolent spirituality in the 12th century AD. But then we see Pope Julian in the 15th century AD leading Vatican armies into battle.
There is not a one of us who has not had to face into our own issues of violence and nonviolence in just about every aspect of our lives….whether it be in gun control, militarism, neighborhood watch programs, community policing, our families, our politics, our understanding of religion, our vision of God and our attempt to understand Jesus.
Violence is so much a part of our world. How about nonviolence and nonviolent actions? How about putting to work our faith with nonviolent actions. I remember the civil rights training I went through in the 1960’s. We were taught how to respond or how not to respond when we were shouted at or spit upon in demonstrations. Not to lash out when abused. It goes against our human nature but it works. When we know our cause to be just, we know that the forces of nonviolent resistance are able to be heard. We saw it in the civil rights movement in the 60s. We saw it in the struggles of apartheid South Africa. We see it in the Black Lives Matter movement unfolding before our eyes here in the United States. We see it in Charlotte, N.C. and other cities.
When we do or say nothing, we can be taken over by forces that are often revealed as “evil”. We know from lessons we have experienced or know from history.
You have in your bulletin today information regarding the call from Palestinian civil society to enter into nonviolent resistance to the Israeli military occupation….through BDS…boycott, divestment, sanctions regarding the military occupation of 4 million Palestinian people in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the siege of Gaza.
It is a huge issue. I want to address a portion of what military occupation means and what it is doing to the Palestinian people. I am not going to talk about illegal settlements and the confiscations of Palestine land for those settlements….I am not going to talk about the 45,000 homes of Palestinians that have been destroyed since 1967 to accomplish the building of settlements and bypass roads….I am not going to talk about the separation wall that takes land, water and olive trees from the Palestinians….I am not going to talk about the bypass roads in the West Bank that can only be used by Jewish settlers (400 miles of bypass roads in the West Bank paid for by US tax dollars 20 years ago)…..I am not going to talk about divesting from companies such as Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, G4S, and other companies that add to the burden of the military occupation and profit from it.
I am going to talk about the military occupation and what it is doing to children and families. Military occupation means that military law is in place in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. What that means is that military courts decide what to do regarding ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING relating to Palestinians.
Palestinian children have become a target for arrest because of their stone throwing that takes place when they demonstrate against their homes being demolished or their land being confiscated. Seven hundred children are imprisoned yearly…ages from 12 to 16. They are often arrested in the middle of the night, dragged from bed, blindfolded, placed in a jeep, taken to a prison without parents or access to a lawyer.
They are interrogated by the police without anyone present, often put into solitary confinement for days, weeks and even months. 99% of the children plead guilty to get out of prison. They sign documents in Hebrew that they do not understand, and then they go home frightened, wetting their bed at night, withdraw from their school and family and have prison records for the rest of their lives.
You can imagine what this does to the fabric of the family, village life and the threat to the future.
On the other hand, civil law from the state of Israel applies to the 500,000 illegal settlers on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Civil courts seldom punish or hold settlers accountable for any harm done to Palestinians.
There are two systems of law….one used by the military occupation of Palestinians…and one for the illegal Jewish settlers….and the children of the occupation are very damaged by the system.
The Palestinian civil society call for BDS is to change what is taking place and to end these Israeli practices what are in violation of International Law.
You will hear the argument often…”why pick on Israel”…”look at the injustice of other countries”.
My answer to that is that we are complicit as a nation and as citizens when our US tax dollar is funding the military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the siege of Gaza.
If our 3.8 billion dollars a year to the state of Israel was withdrawn, Israel would probably come to terms with how to solve their own problems with the Palestinians and their neighbors rather than have us complicit with the occupation.
I have met with children that have been arrested and have been in prison. I have met with their parents. I have heard many stories. It is not a way to treat children. This is one of the many reasons to support BDS.
We are watching a crisis unfold on many of our streets and cities such as Charlotte, NC. Violence on the streets is not the answer. Nonviolent actions are attempting to overcome the violence. Right now we are in a crisis situation in our own country and in the world.
There is much power in nonviolent resistance that speaks loudly and clearly to human abuse. It is often very much feared because it speaks to injustice. Jesus is still speaking to us through His words and scripture. May we hear and respond in the name of Jesus Christ.