This year, Jerusalem Day and Shavuot coincided with the end of Ramadan and eid al-Fitr. When holy days that are different coincide, especially when you share the same holy places, that is a recipe for conflict. This year, the conflicting holidays caused the spark that escalated into the current war. In my short story “Holy Reverence” I also describe coinciding holidays, when Purim and Good Friday clashed. That story is sent for free to anyone who signs up to my mailing list.
Jesus came with a radical notion – to love your enemies. This was at a time when the Jewish people were being oppressed by the Romans and were constantly in fights and skirmishes against the Samaritans. Yet, Jesus taught stories like the Good Samaritan and healed a Roman officer’s servant. He was a Jewish Rabbi, yet he recognized and helped the regular people “on the other side.” At a time when a Roman soldier could stop a Jew at any time and force him to walk a mile carrying his things, Jesus said to walk two miles. He told us to love our enemies, even when they don’t deserve it.
Jesus never compromised with the truth, either. When speaking to the Samaritan woman, he said that the “salvation is from the Jews,” contradicting Samaritan theology. He never betrayed his people – even when they turned against him.
In the book I’m writing, “The Secret Scroll of Magdala,” I am careful to always include “good” people and “bad” people from all sides. I have Roman soldiers that hate the Jews, others that reluctantly fulfill their duties as soldiers. I have Jews who hate the Christians and others who wish to live in peace with them. My heroes and main characters are Christians, but I also have an evil character within the church.
As a writer, you always need to remember that each character is the hero in his own story. My villain doesn’t know he is my villain, he thinks he is the hero, and it is my duty to “get under his skin” and describe his way of thinking. This is why reading teaches you empathy. It forces you to go inside someone else’s head for a while. This is also helpful in learning to follow Jesus’ command to love your enemy.
In the future, I expect to write about Islam too. When I do, I intend to know Islam from a Muslim’s point of view. I am going to write both good and evil Muslim characters. I am not allowing myself to do this until I at least have read the Quran, and have a basic knowledge of Arabic.
We recently celebrated Shavuot here in Israel, the harvest festival on which we remember the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. On the same day, the New Testament describes how the disciples received the Holy Spirit. We often see this as the birthday of the church, because this is the point in which people with many different languages heard about Jesus for the first time. We have good reason to believe that this occurred in the temple in Jerusalem.
And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty deeds of God. (Acts 2:8-11)
Did you notice that? People are hearing about the mighty deeds of God in the temple in Jerusalem in Arabic. This just might be the first time that the words “Allahu Aqbar” were uttered there… (and before you accuse me of heresy – Allah means God in Arabic, and was used by Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians long before Islam came around).
As I am writing this, we are still in the midst of the war of 2021. Me and my family are safe here in Jerusalem (but the war did force us to cancel vacation plans). I am not going to delve into the details of the conflict, as there are many people online who do it much better than I. My focus is history and religion, not politics and current affairs. Nevertheless, I do want to encourage everyone to consider the people on the other side. Think about what it means when Jesus said to love our enemies.
It is entirely possible to have compassion for the Palestinians and pray for their salvation without giving up your belief in Zionism and the Jewish right to the land. If you belong to “the other side” vs my viewpoint, I can say the same. It is entirely possible to have compassion for us Israelis and pray for our salvation without giving up your (wrong) belief in replacement theology and Israel’s theological irrelevance.
God has called us to love our neighbors. He has also told us to love our enemies. As a country surrounded by enemies, that is a calling on us Jews to love our Palestinian neighbors twice. Just like Jesus, we will do this without betraying our people and without compromising with the truth. Is it easy? No. Are we required to do it? Yes!