For Sunday, December 4
John seems an unlikely leader, badly in need of a wardrobe manager, some cooking classes, and a marketing strategist. But here he is, miles from the city in the wasteland of the Judean desert, shouting that he is not the savior people have been waiting for. John is only preparing the way for the real deal.
If we try to listen with the ears of the first-century readers of Mark’s gospel, we would be desperate for some hope. The Judeans have been skirmishing with Rome for decades. One rebel leader after another has tried to throw off the yoke of occupation, only to be defeated by the superior firepower of the Roman legions. Finally, by 70 CE, Rome has grown impatient with the uprisings and has squelched the insurrection once and for all, not only defeating the rebels, but completely destroying the temple and
forcing the Judeans to leave the city.
This is life for Mark’s readers—forced from their homes and suffering under conquest and occupation. A striking parallel with the situation of Palestinians today, and they, too, are desperate for good news—some glimmer of hope for an end to Israel’s occupation and an end to the theft of their land.
On November 16, in the West Bank, a group of Palestinians boarded the Israeli buses.
They took their cue from Rosa Parks, because, you see, Israel has segregated bus systems. The Israeli Egged and Veolia buses are only for Jews,even when the buses operate in the West Bank (for the settlers). There is a separate bus line for the Palestinians—the blue Arab buses. The Palestinians waited at the Israeli bus stops and boarded the Israeli buses, but they were physically removed from the buses by Israeli soldiers when they reached the Hizmeh checkpoint, which is a Jewish-only checkpoint between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Read more in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Or watch a two-minute ABC report. Or a six-minute video describing the action, paired with footage of Mississippi freedom rides of the 60s.
It was a small gesture, but one of hope—a glimpse of liberation for the Palestinians, pushed about by rules and permits and exclusions. These Palestinians claimed what they believe is rightfully theirs—the freedom to travel and equality with the Jewish Israelis. Now, I’ve ridden the Arab buses and they are fine buses, safe, prompt—the only hassle is the soldiers who stop the buses, board with their automatic weapons, and make everyone get off the bus and produce their identification documents—IF you are Palestinian, that is; Americans with our blue passports did not have to get off. And I am also allowed to ride the Egged buses, something denied Palestinians, even when these buses are traveling in the West Bank.
These six freedom riders are preparing the way—they are planning more such actions to call attention to the apartheid policies of the state of Israel.
God of the powerless, you sent your messenger John to prepare people’s hearts for your son. Show us how we, like John, can be your messengers, preparing the way for your coming reign. In the name of your son, Amen.