It wasn’t enjoyable. It wasn’t relaxing. And it certainly wasn’t easy.
But for me and 14 other Israeli Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians, it was necessary.
The Reconciliation in Israel/Palestine (LIRIP) event, hosted by Lausanne, took place this month in Cyprus. (You can read more about it here.) Israeli and Palestinian representatives gathered to discuss what real reconciliation would look like between our communities. We examined conflicting accounts of history. We compared land claims. We discussed our wildly divergent theological beliefs. We argued about eschatology, suffering, justice, election, land, and politics. In short, we waded right into the deep end.
While the powerful work the Messiah completed at the cross was our common thread, we quickly recognized that our unique personal narratives were completely dissimilar, having been shaped by culture, history, politics, and theology. As an Israeli Messianic Jew, I found it to be emotionally draining. And I can’t imagine I was alone in feeling this way.
Each of us has unique opportunities to be reconcilers, to be unity-builders within our own communities and relationships.
Reconciliation is grueling work. Initially, it opens up more wounds than it heals. It can seem flat out Sisyphean in nature. So why put ourselves through it?
Jesus prayed for his followers, “. . . that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). This prayer guided our efforts in Cyprus as we waded through an ocean of issues together. This “oneness” should characterize God’s people. As followers of Jesus, we are to mirror the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit. So, in essence, we have no choice; this isn’t an optional part of our faith. It is a foundational characteristic of our community.
Sadly, the body of believers often falls short of Jesus’s prayer. In the book of Acts, we read of discord and division even in the early stages of the church. Our generation is no different. We need only to consider the myriad of denominations and groups that exist today to realize that the problem persists.
Rifts aren’t a new phenomenon, and they will continue to complicate our lives in this broken world.
So how can we expect to do better? Each of us has unique opportunities to be reconcilers, to be unity-builders within our own communities and relationships. This doesn’t mean we must foolishly abandon our own beliefs, values, and convictions. It means that we must not assume we can prioritize them above unity.
Of course, there are complications to the business of reconciliation. There are times when we reach out and seek resolution only to find others unwilling to reciprocate. There are times when the middle ground seems miles away. There are times when we simply don’t feel like it.
Along the way, we will make mistakes and offend one another — but we must not let that deter us from doing the hard work now.
I’ll be honest — even after a week of discussion in Cyprus, we are far from solving the conflict. We talked through weighty issues, ate meals together, shared stories and got to know one another. We didn’t come to complete theological agreement. Our political views remained varied. But something happened. I feel different. Something powerful was at work when we made an effort to listen to one another.
Our accomplishment was this: our group walked away committed — committed to meet again, to continue the conversation within our respective communities, and to keep in mind the distinct challenges facing our brothers and sisters in the faith. We realized the need for our communities to develop together a theology of reconciliation.
We are called to be “one.” This means hard work and perseverance. It means feeling awkward and frustrated. It means being vulnerable. And it requires commitment to one another. Along the way, we will make mistakes and offend one another — but we must not let that deter us from doing the hard work now. Because even small steps we take today make a big difference down the road.
The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.
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