Saturday, August 12, 2006

Conversation with a Hizbollahi centurion

I had an interesting conversation with our Hizbollah translator when I was there, standing at the steps of the Archbishop's house in Marjayoun. We'd had a few words in Sidon the day before when he heard me recounting how I had taken a wrong turn looking for AUB and gotten lost in West Beirut for several hours - and acquired five or six miles of useful exercise.

He asked me if I was worried about it and when I said, "What for?" he thought I was an unusual American worth talking to, because Americans in his experience were always very fearful.

So the next day he asked me about the right of return, so I said, "To my mind, here's where you have to start: 'Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God,'" ticking them off on my fingers.

He agreed heartily - unlike almost any American Christian I talk to about these things.

So, then, I went on, it was unjust to drive the Palestinians out of their homes in the 1948 ethnic cleansing, and they have the right to go back, but there's no way to do that without doing other injustice, just as there was no way to to go back to where it should have been before David killed Bathsheba's husband.

"But," he protested, "would you accept any compensation for your home if you were driven out of it?"

I said, "What else could I do, if the alternative is injustice or cruelty? Is any piece of property in this world worth giving away the word of God for? It's clearly unjust for Ariel Sharon to throw three-year-olds out on the street in Jenin. There are three-year-olds running around in Israel. Knowing what it feels like, how could you throw them out on the street?"

And then he got that look people get when they connect the dots and assent to truth - again a look I hardly ever see in "Christians."

I was remembering this last week when the Roman centurion came to mind, the only one that got the point of the Sermon on the Mount. I'd always understood the joy of Jesus in seeing this man's understanding.

But faced with what American Christians are, just as they were in the Philippine-American War and almost very other such act of domination and cruelty in American history, I felt the anguish of Jesus, which I'd never laid to heart before, in having to face the reality that nearly all of God's people, so-called, were more callous than that centurion. Where these things are concerned, that Hizbollahi is about the only one I've seen that has displayed real repentance, who is not given over to worldly callousness. I can think of maybe two others in the past 4 years attaining to it. If this phenomenon were not documented in the Bible, I suppose I would find it unbelievable.

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