EPf PIN member Kathy Christison wrote this Holy Week reflection. This first appeared in the EPF email sent on Good Friday 10 April 2020.
We Are the Body of Christ
On a Sunday in Gaza at the start of Lent, Israeli snipers on the other side of the border fence shot a young Palestinian man named Mohammed al-Naem. Initially, there seems nothing especially significant about the shooting or its occurrence during Lent. The special somberness of Lent means little to Gaza’s overwhelmingly Muslim inhabitants, who live in somber circumstances the year ‘round. The fact of a shooting in Gaza is also not unusual, Israel having shot thousands of Gaza Palestinians and killed hundreds in the last two years of Palestinian protests over being imprisoned and blockaded inside this small territory.
What was unusual on this day was that, as several other Palestinians ran to al-Naem and began carrying him to safety (it is unclear whether he was still alive at this point), an Israeli tank and a bulldozer entered the territory and chased the rescuers, shooting at them until they dropped the body. Then, in a grotesque scene captured on amateur video, the bulldozer attempted repeatedly to scoop up al-Naem’s body but kept missing, until finally the bulldozer blades caught him by the shirt and drove away with his now-mangled body hanging limply by his clothing.
No one in the western world paid attention to this atrocity, but Palestinians grieved and, on websites and social media, they raged. And suddenly out of nowhere, almost as if in a mystical vision, an image appeared on Facebook that takes one’s breath away.
We are the Body of Christ.
It is unclear who created this image, or whether the creator quite understood its power. But the parallels are striking: Jesus was a Palestinian Jew tortured and crucified by Roman imperial occupiers; al-Naem was a Palestinian Muslim tortured and crucified by Israeli imperial occupiers. Jesus lived under oppressive Roman rule; Palestinians of all faiths live under oppressive Israeli rule.
The agony of Jesus on Good Friday (which in Arabic translates as Sorrowful Friday) was strikingly corporeal—in the garden, where he sweated blood; in Pilate’s chambers, where he was brutalized with beatings and a crown of thorns; on the way to Golgotha, where he bled under the burden of the cross; and on the cross. Al-Naem’s agony was also notably corporeal. Jesus hung, stripped of all human dignity, from a gross instrument of torture; al-Naem hung, also stripped of human dignity, from a gross instrument of torture. In Palestine, the bulldozer has become a symbol of suffering, just as the cross is a symbol of suffering. The bulldozer is the preeminent symbol of Israeli destruction, used to demolish Palestinian homes, to raze Palestinian agricultural land, to pave over the traces of Palestinian existence, to kill. In 2003, a bulldozer ran over and killed a young American solidarity activist, Rachel Corrie.
It matters not at all that this image showing Jesus in agony was created to symbolize the agony and death of a young Muslim. For Jesus is in each of us, Jesus Christ as God is in each of us. The divine is in all of us, no matter our faith. Jesus enters into and shares our suffering, as we share his. He died on the cross in order to save all of us.
Tarek Abuata, the Palestinian Christian executive director of Friends of Sabeel North America, has said that in Palestine divinity is being revealed in the midst of destruction; like the moon against the darkness of night, we can see divinity more clearly against the darkness of destruction. The image of Jesus hanging on a bulldozer is a glimpse of that divinity in the midst of destruction.