“…to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79)
One of the beautiful images about peace comes from the song of Zechariah after the birth of his son, John the Baptist (Luke 1: 68-79). At the end of this song, Zechariah utters a prayer, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
During this Christmas Season and as 2010 draws to a close, we feel like the people in Isaiah’s time, “…justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us; we wait for light, and lo there is darkness; and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope like the blind along a wall, groping like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among the vigorous as though we were dead. We all growl like bears; like doves we moan mournfully. We wait for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us” (Is. 59:9-11). The level of frustration, fear, and violence has intensified both in Israel-Palestine as well as among the countries of the Middle East. We stand in grief and disappointment at the failure of all peace initiatives. Many of us hoped that President Obama would be able to set our two peoples – the Israelis and Palestinians – on the course of peace. Regretfully, that has not happened so far. In the words of the song of Zechariah, our people continue to “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” In the midst of such despair and agony, our cry goes up to God for help.
The responsibility for achieving peace lies on both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. For peace to prevail, both need to sacrifice and compromise. It has become politically clear that the Palestinian leadership has already made a compromise by accepting the establishment of their state alongside the state of Israel, on 22% of the area of historic Palestine. The problem today lies with the unwillingness of the government of Israel to respect the demands of international law. The Israeli government values land more than peace, settlement building more than human rights. It uses peace rhetoric while daily it devours Palestinian land. Indeed, its feet are not guided by the way of peace. One is reminded again of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths. Their roads they have made crooked; no one who walks in them knows peace” (Is. 59:8).
We believe that the coming of Jesus Christ has shown us the way of peace; and he can guide our feet into the way of peace. Peace requires commitment and sacrifice. It must be built on truth, justice, and mercy. It must have love as its logic. It must not crush the enemy. It must see God in the face of the other, even the enemy. Whenever active resistance is required, it must employ nonviolent means in order to breakdown the injustice and oppression. Ultimately, in order for peace to endure, what we love for ourselves, we must love for others – even our enemies. Only on such a basis, can peace be built.
What is required by the international community is to pressure the leaders of the state of Israel to walk the way of peace. All our people, Israelis and Palestinians, long and crave for peace. Indeed, it is within our reach. Let us continue to pray and work for its realization.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9).
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, Jerusalem