“Forgive us, Father, for we know not what we do.”
I am writing this post from my hotel room in the West Bank of Palestine. I can’t fully describe the feeling that swept over me when we crossed through the Israeli military check point into the Palestinian side and I saw the size of the wall that had been constructed as part of the ongoing strife in the Holy Land.
After spending the previous days intersecting with the ministry of Jesus in Capernaum and standing on the Mount of Beatitudes, reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount, the only thing I could think of as I wept was, “Forgive us, Father, for we know not what we do.”
We are staying in Bethlehem on the Palestinian side to bring resources where economic support has been choked off. Oppression and control lay thick in the air everywhere we turned.
Yet, despite the realities, the Palestinians I am intersecting with are full of love and kindness, despite their circumstances.
We spent some time at a Palestinian refugee camp as part of our learning experience. The camps are places of painful poverty. Their freedoms have been stripped and options for a future are slim to none.
Inside the camp, Hisham and Haman spoke to us. Brother and sister in spirit not blood, they are informal leaders in their community. We sat in a cold and stark room as they served us the best tea I have ever tasted and shared more of their experience.
– We heard the story of what it was like for Hisham’s family to be kicked off their land 60 years ago when Israel was first established. They had been told that they’d be displaced for two weeks and then could return home. Now, 60 years later, they have all grown up and had children and grandchildren inside this camp.
– We heard the story of uneducated women who have no ability to make any kind of wage to provide for their children.
– We heard the story of people unable to enter certain parts of their country without permits that realistically they will never be able to actually obtain.
– We heard the story of what it’s like to have no economy, no advocates, no belief that anyone with power is ever going to help them.
Hisham also said something I will never forget. He said, “We have to keep fighting for our freedom.”
We have to keep fighting for our freedom.
It could be so easy for these words to be misconstrued or challenged:
“But it’s not right to ‘fight'”
“God sets us free, even if man doesn’t.”
“There has to be an easier way to freedom.”
“If they would just …”
My instincts used to be similar, but now I believe those are words from people with privilege, power and the luxury of comfort.
When we are oppressed, if we give up the fight for freedom, we will lose. Human history (and church history, too) has proven this over and over again.
It reminds me of Martin Luther King’s prophetic words:
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
Demand is a hard word, but I strongly believe it means we will have to keep fighting for freedom.
Our freedom. And the freedom of others.
One of the most beautiful parts of Jesus’ call for us to cultivate the kingdom of God here, now, is that our freedom is never just for us. As we step into our freedom, our responsibility is to then participate in helping others live into theirs, too.
There will always be a cost when we fight for freedom, our own or others’. Maybe that is part of the cost Jesus said we’d pay for following him.
We may be called rebellious, angry, divisive, or even heretical. We may be misunderstood. We may be unsupported by people we had hoped would encourage us. We may get into trouble.
But to others we will be bearers of hope, advocates, lovers, justice-pursuers and freedom fighters.
My experience here in Israel and Palestine did not ignite something that hadn’t already been lit, but it did fan my passion for freedom for all people into greater flame. There are many people crying out for freedom. Some of those people are ourselves. Others are in our own backyards and all the way across the world. The poor, the hurting, the oppressed, the bound, the stuck–in need of help in fighting for freedom.
And as we fight for theirs, in all kinds of wild and beautiful ways that only God could pull off, they’ll somehow help us keep finding our freedom, too.
Image credits: Neil Ward. All photos from the Palestinian side of the wall in Bethlehem.