‘I’m so frustrated with Benjamin Netanyahu.” Judaism was Michael Rosenthal’s religion, but it was not his tribe.
“You mean because of trying to remove the Israeli Supreme Court as a check on his power?” Pastor Walter Mitty appreciated his friend’s ability to distinguish between political power and the kind of power religion offers.
“Yeah. I mean Israel doesn’t really have an executive branch and now he’s trying to override the check the Supreme Court has.”
“The way we do it in this country,” said Mitty pressing the button for his speaker phone, “is to pack the court with political appointees. Basically the same thing, isn’t it?”
“I guess so, Walt, but here’s what worries me. Passover is coming up. During that holy time we remember how God liberated us from slavery in Egypt, right?”
“So we were powerless, and it wasn’t our military might that freed us.”
“Are you saying that Israel should trust God to protect them from Hamas, Michael?”
“No, no, but here’s my problem, Walt. Arabs were living in what we call the Holy Land until World War I, and then the UN in 1947 decided that the Jews should have a homeland without really asking the Arabs already living there what they thought about the idea.”
“Sort of like the European immigrants to America not asking the folks already here for permission?”
“Sort of like that. The Europeans had guns and diseases against which the natives had no defense. They called it Manifest Destiny.”
“Come to think of it, Michael, when the people of Israel took over the Holy Land, didn’t they think of the invasion as a kind of Manifest Destiny?”
“Sure, but here’s the conundrum, Walt. We Jews have been oppressed, marginalized, segregated and during World War II were the victims of genocide.”
“So the longing for a homeland, a return to the Promised Land is understandable, right?”
“Understandable, sure, and Hamas doesn’t want a two-state solution. They want the Jews out of their land just like Ukrainians want Putin’s army out of their homeland. Understandable, but what Netanyahu is doing is squandering any moral authority the leaders of that Jewish state had.”
Mitty thought for a minute and then said, “I heard on the news that anti-Semitism is on the rise along with hate crimes perpetrated against other minorities.”
“And the connection with Netanyahu is …”
“The connection? Well, I’m not sure,” Michael’s friend admitted. “Something to do with justice, I guess. Except … except Netanyahu represents victims and at the same time has enormous power. Nuclear weapons even. He is surrounded by nations who hate Israel.”
“So his neighbors both hate and fear Israel.”
Mitty sighed as he often does when trying to unravel knotty problems during conversations with his neighbor and finally said, “Complicated, isn’t it?”
Michael nodded, “Excuse me for speaking for Christians, Walt, but Holy Week is coming up and Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion is one of the most blatant acts of injustice ever, but he didn’t lift a finger, much less a sword to resist. The soldiers who mocked him caught the irony, didn’t they? He claimed to be the Son of God, omnipotent, almighty, but as he hung there dying, he sure didn’t look very powerful.”
“And you remember,” added Mitty, “how Bernie Rolvaag reminded us that Christians were a persecuted minority for almost 300 years until …”
“Until Constantine changed everything and Christians gained political power.”
“And as Fr. Sullivan regularly reminds us, when Christians gain political power, they lose Jesus.”
“And that’s one of the things about Jesus that I just don’t get,” said Michael. “He seemed to be a guy who was into changing hearts and minds, but back in the 1930s there were a lot of good, pious Christians who did nothing significant to stop Hitler. I mean, six million Jews, Walt. Six million Jews just like me.”
Pastor Mitty liked to frame life in this world as being between the Garden of Eden, where the first humans were innocent, and heaven where life will be like it was meant to be. “Ambiguity,” he said, taking a deep breath. “Love is the answer, but then again it is not.”
Michael laughed, “Here I go speaking for Christians again, Walt, but it seems to me that Jesus would say that love is the answer, but in the long run.”
“Maybe, Michael, but somehow what you just said doesn’t seem quite right.”
As often happens after talks with his neighbor, Pastor Walt felt more confused than when the conversation started. He was certain that the government should protect minorities and prosecute perpetrators of hate crimes, but he was also sure that enforcing laws would not eliminate hate in society.
He wondered how he was going to connect the dots between the biblical story of the Passion and real life for his members on Good Friday.