Glowing faces and spiritual blindness

I have been in Palestine and Israel for just under a week. I knew I would see many things that would leave me wondering about what is going on in this part of the world. I also realized that like most geopolitical and theological issues there would be many perspectives around each story. Ultimately, it all seemed so complicated – especially from a distance.

As a person of faith, I believe that God calls on us to try to understand. Not so we will be quick to judge but rather so we will see through the eyes of the other and reach out in compassion rooted in justice.

In my normal life as a minister I follow the weekly readings offered in the Common Lectionary. This seems like a good tool to use as I record some of my impressions of my experience here.

The reading from the Hebrew scriptures this week is about Moses coming down the mountain carrying the tablets with God’s commandments:
– a way to live faithfully,
– a way to offer hope and liberation to a people who had lived under the oppressive hand of Pharaoh,
– a way to live together in peace with justice,
– a way to live so all will be well.

Earlier this week I met a Palestinian woman who told a story about visiting her brother who has been in prison for over three years.
She talked about her months of frustration trying to get permission to visit him.
She talked about other bureaucratic roadblocks put in the way of a visit.
I began to wonder where her story was leading when it dramatically shifted.

She told us of an eight year old boy who had been brought to visit his father in the same prison where her brother was held. The boy was blind. When it was time for the children to be let in to greet their fathers to hug them and to be held by their dad the blind boy
was held back. A guard said the rule was only children under eight would be allowed to go into the room and this child was eight years and four months. The blind boy begged and cried to be let in for he truly couldn’t see his father on the other side of the glass nor did he understand what was going on. The woman begged and pleaded with the guards to have compassion on this poor child. The guards responded that he was over eight so he would have to stay behind the glass where he could see him.

When Moses came down from the mountain his face glowed for he had seen the face of God and the glory of God’s way forward. He carried with him the tablets that offered hope for a people who had lived under oppression.

The face of the woman with whom I spoke also glowed – with righteous anger. Anger rooted in injustice being foisted upon an innocent, confused child who she could not help.

So, I am left to wonder about many things.

I wonder about the young, blind boy. I wonder how this incident will affect the rest of his life. Will he grow up to be compassionate? Will he learn to love his neighbour? Will he grow up to believe that the glory of God is revealed in the way of peace rooted in justice with compassion? Or will he believe that God will be glorified in some act of vengeance?

I wonder if God’s glory and grace will ever be revealed to an older woman filled with frustration, to a blind young boy longing to be held by his father and to guards who seem so callous? I guess I also wonder about who was truly blind in this story?

Life is complicated for those who live in the West Bank in more ways than most of us will ever fully realize.

About Steve Berube

I am a team minister at St. Paul's United Church in Riverview, NB, Canada. I served as a human rights observer in Bethlehem while on sabbatical in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) of the World Council of Churches.
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10 Responses to Glowing faces and spiritual blindness

  1. Shirley kirkpatrick says:

    Good morning Steve. Such injustice at every level. I would be interested in your response to the woman after hearing her story. Were you able to offer hope of any kind, did she want consolation from you? did she just need to be heard? Thinking of you in all this. Shirley K

    • steveberube says:

      Hi Shirley. I guess my role here is to accompany, to stand in solidarity with those whose stories I am privileged to hear. I was able to listen but that is really all I could do. I guess I wonder where the hope lies in her story. I am curious when hope lies in her story because I am really not sure.

  2. Wendy Marney says:

    Good Morning Steve……you have been there just a short time and already you are hearing stories from people you have encountered. Many, many more will share with you. Thank you for sharing and allowing us to hear, feel and wonder along your journey. You are in our thoughts and prayers.
    Shalom & Compassion along the way.
    Wendy M

  3. Andy says:

    That’s an incredible parable, Steve. It reminds me that Jesus’ parables were often told in response to real life situations like these, of injustice and blindness. You’ve offered a powerful question: will (the boy) grow up to be compassionate? In the face of monumental divisions, questions like this help focus the way we live and respond to physical and emotional violence everywhere.

    I’m finding Shirley’s question personally challenging. Given what you’re observing, I can only imagine that hope is sometimes very hard to spot. My temptation is to place a positive anecdote next to a challenging one, and imply that they somehow balance. But I think that could take away from the strength of the woman’s story as a parable for our time. Your question about blindness is deep and haunting, and straight out of Jesus’ playbook.

    It also makes me think that, often, the only confidence and hope the people of God have had is in the patient, long-suffering vision for peace through justice that is typical of God, but so often out of reach for humanity.

    Thanks so much for this. It’s great to converse with you about what you’re doing, and to hear your reflections.


  4. Betty Croft says:

    Even in our small town of Riverview, I have seen injustices almost everyday. Although they may seem tame in comparison to this young boy’s, the bullying, lack of empathy for fellow students and the sometimes intolerance of Special Needs students, they still are injustices. My experience has been that most of these students learn to be more compassionate persons as their lives progress. Here’s hoping this young boy will also learn to be compassionate and understanding in the face of this injustice. God bless you for being such a great listener and for sharing this with us all. Miss you!

  5. Sheila Perry says:

    Thanks for sharing Steve! It can be overwhelming the injustices happening all over the world-my heart goes out to this young lad and like Betty I hope that spite this rejection the young lad will learn to be compassionate and understanding in spite of the injustice he has suffered!

  6. Carol Steel says:

    This story touches my heart and haunts me. There are no easy answers; to attempt a comment on the power of this parable would diminsh the emotions and questions it has provoked in me. So I will say only this, thank you for sharing.

  7. Louise Fyffe says:

    Your trip has forced me to become a Facebook user — old dogs can learn new tricks!
    Like others who have commented on this entry, I am saddened by this family’s experience of “the law” as created by bureaucrats who do not stand in the shoes of the downtrodden. As disturbing as it is to know of these seemingly senseless situations, it allows us here at home to come a little closer to the experience of people we will never meet in the traditional sense of the word. Thank you for carrying us with you on this journey.
    Be safe,

  8. Paul Burns says:

    Hi Steve. Here is a perfect example of how one small event – although huge in the mind of that little boy at this moment – could change an entire life. That soldier probably doesn’t realize that a small act of compassion on his part may of been a game changer in that part of the world as we don’t know what God has in mind for that little boy. He may be a future leader in Palestine, but now full of hate and the feeling of injustice. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see what that boy has become in ten years and how a few minutes in his life may have changed it forever?

  9. well I want to thank you for writing this story between many more painful ones … in a way or another what are the solutions for these savage behaviors …how come the followers of Moses are doing this inhumane acts …..why the human right association are not taken an urgent action … why is the united states of America is still closing its eyes and ears about these sad events … why its government is still blindly behind Israel in whatever it does … really this soldier need to talk the language of no words .. the language of compassion….when facing this issue whatever the rules are …this kind of behavior is adding another kind of pollution that will destroy the earth in this critical galactic time ….

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