Twenty Ninth Sunday of the Year
A Prayer for Peace in Israel and Palestine
Rose Marie Berger Sojourners October 9, 2023
“They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain...” —Isaiah 11:9
God of Comfort,
send your Spirit to encompass all those whose lives
are torn apart by violence and death in Israel and Palestine.
You are the Advocate of the oppressed
and the One whose eye is on the sparrow.
Let arms reach out in healing, rather than aggression.
Let hearts mourn rather than militarize.
God of Justice,
give strength to those whose long work for a just peace
might seem fruitless now. Strengthen their resolve.
Do not let them feel alone. Show us how to support their work
and bolster their courage. Guide religious leaders to model
unity and reconciliation across lines of division.
Guide political leaders to listen with their hearts as they seek peace and pursue it.
Help all people choose the rigorous path of just peace and disavow violence.
God of Love,
we lift up Palestine and Israel — its people, its land, its creatures.
War is a monster that consumes everything in its path.
Peace is a gift shared at meals of memory with Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
Let us burn incense, not children. Let us break bread, not bodies.
Let us plant olive groves, not cemeteries.
We beg for love and compassion to prevail
on all your holy mountains.
God of Hope,
we lift up the cities of the region: Gaza City and Tel Aviv,
Ramallah and Ashkelon, Deir El Balah and Sderot,
so long divided, yet so filled with life and creativity.
Come again to breathe peace on your peoples
that all may recognize you.
God of Mercy,
even now work on the hearts of combatants
to choose life over death, reconciliation over retaliation,
restoration over destruction. Help us resist antisemitism in all its forms,
especially in our own churches. All people, Israelis and Palestinians,
deserve to live in peace and unafraid, with a right to determine
their future together.
God of the Nations,
let not one more child or elder be sacrificed on altars of political expediency.
Keep safe all people from unjust leaders who would exploit
vulnerability for their own distorted ends.
Give wise discernment to those making decisions to pursue peace.
Provide them insight into fostering well-being, freedom, and thriving for all.
Teach all of us to resolve injustices with righteousness, not rockets.
Guard our hearts against retaliation, and give us hearts for love alone.
Strengthen our faith in you, O God of All Flesh,
even when we don’t have clear answers,
so that we may still offer ourselves nonviolently
for the cause of peace.
Rose Marie Berger, is a senior editor of Sojourners magazine.
Reflections on the Readings
Mircea Eliade, in The Sacred and the Profane refers to the tendency to divide the universe into God's world and our world. God tends to the sacred and we tend to the rest. The line from today’s gospel: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” is often used to defend the status quo. It is imply that Jesus had no interest in economic, political questions, or identity questions which impact on our actions.
The ‘render unto Caesar’ passage, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, was clearly important for the early community. The question put to Jesus was meant as a trap. This passage is part of a series of edgy encounters within the temple. Whatever Jesus’ response it could have been political suicide. The rapid production of a coin bearing the image of Caesar by the Pharisees was a classic ‘gotcha’ moment because having a coin with the image of a living god/human, was a clear violation of Torah. We saw how some Pharisees had allied them with Herodians who despised each other. The disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians are Jews, even if the Herodians sympathised more with the Roman occupiers. Such unholy alliances continue in our church or wider milieu. We have seen Anglican conservative 'evangelicals' in bed with conservative 'Catholics' (who also abhor each other) to deny justice to women or LGBTIQA+ people. From a Jewish perspective, everything belongs to God, the earth and all its riches. Is he telling them to pay the tax while still recognising God’s prior claim?
The question put to Jesus is a furphy. When Jesus asks about the image on the coin, he is really asking, ‘Who or what are the rivals to God in your life? What people, ideologies, what prejudices, what addictions, what economics, what possessions?’ He’s asking, ‘Where do your loyalties lie?’ Who are the Caesars that we attach ourselves to, and do we sometimes give to them what we should give to God. There are many competing empires that vie for our allegiance.
For Jesus, the money-question was about the power it has over people, how it can be not just a possession but possess us, how it can be tied up with our sense of worth, how it takes over our desires and imagination to such an extent that we do not easily imagine ourselves into the lives other people and feel empathy for them. The promise of lower taxes pleases many people. There is much public sentiment against paying taxes - especially, when paid to a foreign occupying power as in Jesus’ time. Jesus’ view is broader. He would not endorse situations or support systems where people just looked after themselves and allowed others to suffer deprivation.
We argue about the borders or limits of compassion expressed in caring for the sick, supporting the aged, providing a liveable wage to people who are unemployed or underemployed, accepting and including people who are different, etc. By putting borders or limitations on our compassion means we may be cutting ourselves off from those who are held close to God’s heart and ultimately from God.
The gospel raises the question of belonging. To whom do the poor belong? Or asylum seekers? Or the world’s 30 million trafficked people? Is it the places from the places they have come from? Is it the perpetrators? The scriptures insist they belong to God. It is the poor, the neglected and forgotten by the dominant society, the many people trafficked, the countless people seeking asylum, the person who crosses our path seeking recognition. As the rejected Jesus becomes the cornerstone of the building, these rejected ones are the cornerstone of our and church. And when we do that, we welcome them. Cardinal Tobin at the Synod in Rome said recently that the church is ‘most beautiful when the doors are open,’ when we find ways to live “like Jesus did” by reaching out, welcoming, healing and including. To live like Jesus, humanises, gives dignity, includes, and opens doors ‘the other.’ It means denouncing injustice and exploitation that attack human dignity and excludes from society people such as the poor, migrants, asylum seekers, displaced people by war and violence, and victims of human trafficking.
The question is where are our hearts? When Jesus asks about the image on the coin, he is really asking, ‘Who or what are the rivals to God in your life? What people, ideologies, what prejudices, what addictions, what economics, what possessions?’ He’s asking, ‘Where do your loyalties lie?’ He is asking both them and us to do a personal inventory and decide who are the Caesars that we attach ourselves to, and do we sometimes give to them what we should give to God. There are many competing empires that vie for our allegiance. In gospel terms and Catholic social teaching, political policies need to be evaluated by their effect on the most vulnerable.
Jesus' question to those trying to entangle him reminds us that we are all made in God's image. We are icons of God. Wherever that image is violated by political or ecclesial power then we must strive to preserve God's image in the one victimised and the one victimising. God’s only currency
Give back to God what has God's image on it – our humanity. God’s image is everywhere and within. So, Jesus again frustrates any attempt to keep politics and religion in separate tidy boxes. Our lives cannot be cordoned off into the ‘secular’ and the ‘religious’. God's presence and actions cannot be confined to narrow categories. For Isaiah, our idea of God is too small. God messes up our neat distinctions. Charles Cousar says, ‘When the divine image is denied and persons are made by political circumstances to be less than human, then the text carries a revolutionary word that has to be spoken to both oppressed and oppressor.’
Ignacio Ellacuria, a Salvadoran liberation theologian, murdered 31 years ago next month, said ‘We are people of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel that proclaims the reign of God and that calls us to transform our world into as close an image of that reign of God as possible.’
Jesus says, ‘Render unto God what is God's.’ Don’t give to any ‘Caesar’ what only belongs to God - the lives of His sons and daughters. People’s lives, dignity or wellbeing cannot be sacrificed to any power, and no power today, according to Pope Francis, has sacrificed more lives or caused more suffering, hunger and destruction than this faceless ‘dictatorship of an economy’ which lacks any truly humane goal that the powerful have imposed. We cannot remain passive and indifferent, silencing the voice of our conscience in religious practice.
Mary Oliver, in Summer’s Day, asks: ‘Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ It can leave us uncomfortable as we strive for things we cannot sustain: chasing affirmation, financial stability, job security, success but lose sight of our true desires. Her question reminds us that all we have is the gift of life and we need to live it to the full in communion with God, with God’s Earth and our sisters and brothers. We bear God’s image and belong to God. This should help us see life as a precious gift that allows us to be ‘wasteful’ about things that matter such as gratitude, service, beauty, truth, mercy, love, rather than on fearfully gathering up what our culture says we need. Life is to be poured out and shared, not hoarded. From that dreadful struggle, perhaps you will learn how to make God’s authority known to the world through the witness of your life and continue to wrestle with Jesus’s enduring and inexhaustible question: ‘Who do you say that I am?’