Temptations and Wilderness

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Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. Lent begins as it always does with the story of Jesus being tempted in the Judean wilderness.

Wilderness images race through my Canadian mind; the green dark forest, the barren tundra, the wild Rocky Mountains. These scenes form part of the fabric of my soul. Each is foreboding and challenging in a different way. For me, these wild places carry a sense of adventure and excitement. But, if I get in trouble, I am comforted that someone will rush offer assistance.

As I gazed at the Judean wilderness the landscape seemed vast and alien. Hilly, barren, rocky all baked into what looked like an uncompromising and unforgiving golden reality. Parts of it looked exactly as it would have some 2,000 years ago when Jesus entered it to test his heart and soul and find a new way forward.

The temptations he faced were those of personal comfort and political grandeur. We too face our temptations but ours are rooted in a very different reality. Many of us will try to give up something that we enjoy for Lent. A few will also take up some way of being more faithful during this time of spiritual discipline.

The experience of the people in Palestine is vastly different than that in Canada. In my opinion, they do not have to worry about giving something up for 40 days. They have endured over 40 years of military occupation. Basic Human Rights agreed to by the UN have been “temporarily” suspended since 1967. (46 years) Other rights guaranteed under the Geneva Conventions are ignored. Forty days of sacrifice for most Palestinians is but the mere blink of an eye.

It is not only human rights that have suffered. The bustling city of Bethlehem, I remember from 18 years ago, is an emaciated shadow of what once was. The economy is in taters and unemployment is well above 20%.

I suspect the temptation for most Palestinians is either resignation or violence. Resignation, because after 40 years of the international community trying to resolve the dispute, things have steadily deteriorated and are continuing to worsen. Violence, probably because it is a last resort out of frustration and in a sense a plea for the world to notice and take action.

Yet, just as Jesus did not give into temptation, we have met a few Palestinians who will not give in either. They are looking for a creative new way forward. They are working to thwart the reality that they exist within. Some are moving forward on the legal front. Others are working their way around the myriad of obstacles placed in their way. This group is attempting to rebuild pride and self esteem within the Palestinian community. One told us he believed the Israeli government was smart and conniving so he had to be just as smart and even more cunning in order to help end the illegal occupation.

Each of the these three men (who I prefer not to name) have pushed past the temptation to let the international community resolve the problems in Palestine. They believe in the need for a made in Palestine solution. They still want support and pressure from the world but they seem to be embracing the idea of being “sly as serpents and gentle as doves.”

The other thing that was very apparent from each of the three was they had overcome the temptation of violence. They all spoke separately of their deeply held belief in peace with justice for all.

The temptation for me has been to always look elsewhere to the major problems that exist in some other part of the world. That is a temptation that most of us succumb to in moral issues that confront us on a global scale. Yet, the problem in Palestine began in 1948 and was worsened in 1967. Perhaps it is time to let the scales fall from our eyes and recognize that we need to support our Palestinian brothers and sisters in their long term struggle for rights and dignity.

The new way forward seems complicated for our Palestinian brothers and sisters. But – there is hope. Hope that the temptations of the old ways will be replaced by a new way, a way rooted in peace with justice in this land that is holy.

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About Steve Berube

I am a team minister at St. Paul's United Church in Riverview, NB, Canada. Currently I am on sabbatical and serving with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) of the World Council of Churches. I will be living in Bethlehem until the end of April.
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3 Responses to Temptations and Wilderness

  1. Rick Garland says:

    Thanks for your reflection, Steve. The most moving experiences I had when travelling through the region were the ones that reflected hope in the midst of violence and desperation. It is not a hope tied to a plan for a way forward, but a hope in a God who is still faithful to the people of the chosen land.

  2. Yvette Swan says:

    Steve, Your reflection sits in a very deep place in my heart, and has done so ever since my last visit to the Middle East. We have to use the tools that God gives us. Our eyes, ears, mouth and pray that the seeds that we sew does not fall on ‘hard’ ground

  3. Paul Burns says:

    Hi Steve. Been on the road a lot and not able to keep up but here I am for now. Reading your post made me think of something that I read the other night. Communication = clarity = trust. Like many situations of conflict, real communication would probably go a long ways where you are right now. However, both sides aren’t really listening so communication is weak, so is the clarity and therefore the trust.

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