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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

1099: it is only by divesting ourselves of our complicity in the privilege that comes with power

Day 1099: Monday, March 20, 2023

it is only by divesting ourselves of our complicity in the privilege that comes with power and its abuse that we can begin to understand the cruciform way of the messiah.

(settler pogrom burning the Palestinian neighborhood of al Huwara)

Prophecy vs. the Prophetic: A Mid-Lenten Reflection

It has become an unfortunate truism that so many of those who obsess over “prophecy” never truly wrestle with the words of the prophets. One might read the following text as predictive of what will happen:

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you; I will gather the remnant who are left.”

—Micah 2:12 (NLT)

Yet, wholly ignore its context:

What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night, thinking up evil plans. You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out, simply because you have the power to do so. When you want a piece of land, you find a way to seize it. When you want someone’s house, you take it by fraud and violence. You cheat a man of his property, stealing his family’s inheritance.

—Micah 2:1–2 (NLT)

Though first proclaimed millennia ago, the above words of the prophet Micah present a stunningly accurate depiction of our contemporary realities in Palestine. The passage presents us with an image of those in power conspiring to use that power to defraud others of their land, homes, and inheritance. It presents us with a social order built upon graft and exploitation in which the entire political-economic system is manipulated, “rigged,” to favor those who would use their power to expropriate the property of others.

We might easily call these the vulture capitalists of their day and age. Yet, it can just as easily serve as a scathing rebuke of Israeli apartheid, of the settler movement and the entire institutional-legal apparatus constructed to support it.

(settler pogrom burning the Palestinian neighborhood of al Huwara)

The prophet, meanwhile, goes on:

“Don’t say such things, their “prophets” prophecy. Don’t prophesy like that. Such disasters will never come our way!” Should you talk that way, O house of Jacob? Will the Lord’s Spirit have patience with such behavior? If you would do what is right, you would find my words comforting.

Yet to this very hour my people rise against me like an enemy! You steal the shirts right off the backs of those who trusted you, making them as ragged as men returning from battle. You have evicted women from their pleasant homes and forever stripped their children of all that God would give them.

Up! Begone! This is no longer your land and home, for you have filled it with sin and ruined it completely. Suppose a prophet full of lies would say to you, “I’ll preach to you the joys of wine and alcohol!” That’s just the kind of prophet you would like!

—Micah 2:6–11 (NLT)

It is crucial to see how the passage highlights the existence of a false religio-prophetic establishment working to provide ideological cover for the corruption and exploitative practices of the powers that be.

As Walter Brueggemann tells us, It was, in that ancient context, difficult to construe reality outside the blueprints that had been constructed by the powerful. That construed reality, blessed by establishment religion, assured itself of an entitlement by God as God’s chosen people that could count on security and certainty with no serious threat or vulnerability. But these prophets knew that that claim was not a given grounded in God; it was a self-serving construction.

Far too often in the course of ecclesial history, our leaders and institutions have stood with the status quo and allied themselves with the power brokers of the day. Not only this, our own "court prophets" construct ideological justifications for the violence of the powerful and of the privileges accrued to them in return. Listening to the voice of the prophets, however, and recognizing how often Jesus draws from them in his life and ministry, will dispel us of any notion that God stands with the status quo. And, as we reflect upon the way of the cross this Lenten season, we recognize that it is only by divesting ourselves of our complicity in the privilege that comes with power and its abuse that we can begin to understand the cruciform way of the messiah.

For this reason, I cannot fathom the twisted logic of those religious settlers or their Christian Zionist financiers who believe that this entire enterprise, built from its origins upon colonial violence and theft, somehow represents the will of God. It is this logic which leads to what we saw during the tragic pogrom in Huwara, when the settler mob paused its violent rampage to engage in evening prayers, as the village burned behind them.

I can only imagine what the biblical prophets would say in response. Even so, an entire theo-political edifice has been constructed to extract wealth from churches, synagogues, and faith-based charities across the country and channel it to this violent settler-colonial enterprise. Two recent films, “‘Till Kingdom Come” and “Israelism,” dramatically highlight such realities. Of course, I must also consider the twisted theological logic of "manifest destiny" with which my own nation set out to conquer, cleanse, and colonize North America by way of fraud and violence, defrauding its natives and those abducted to work its land of their rightful inheritance.

Ultimately, it is our responsibility as followers of Jesus, or as anyone who would seek to stand in the tradition of the biblical prophets, to speak up and out against any and all forms of violence and exploitation—as well as their ideological enablers.

It was so heartening to witness rabbis with Jewish Voice for Peace engaging in civil disobedience as well as the young women and men of If Not Now lead a Jewish prayer service, as an act of protest against the visit of Smotrich and of his genocidal designs, in D.C. this past weekend.

For us, as a Christian Voice for Palestine, our mission at Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) is not only to stand firmly against injustice but also actively work to deconstruct those ideological and theological justifications that prop up regimes of violence and dispossession. This, we do as we positively proclaim the authentic good news that is Christ's liberating reign. This is the way, al-Sabeel.

I close therefore with the following plea, adapted from the Book of Common Prayer:

Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people of the land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to eliminate our cruelty to these, our neighbors. Strengthen those who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this world; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

By Jesse Steven Wheeler*

*Adapted from: Wheeler, Jesse Steven. Serving a Crucified King: Meditations on Faith, Politics, and the Unyielding Pursuit of God’s Reign. Resource Publications, 2021.

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