Friday, February 18, 2011

Water along the Way

Sabeel is an Arabic word meaning “way” or “source of water.” The two are connected, because they come from an ancient tradition in the Middle East of establishing drinking places along the paths people traveled (anyone who has traveled in the Middle East, understands the importance of water here).

It is also the name chosen by Rev. Naim Ateek for the Palestinian Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem (
Dr. Naim Ateek

Sabeel carries out various activities, in the areas of humanitarian work, seeking justice for the Palestinians, and interfaith dialogue with Muslims.

The heart of their work, the passion of Rev. Ateek, is for Palestinian Christians to do theology, to interpret the Bible, in their context – to learn what God has to say to them, through the Bible, in and for their situation under Israeli occupation. He comments that “Jesus lived under occupation” (and thus, the New Testament is very relevant for Palestinians today), and “we read the Bible through Palestinian eyes.”

A common theme of Sabeel is justice. One of their volunteers quoted a verse from the prophet Michah (6:8),

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

He made the statement that “reconciliation is not possible without peace, and peace is not possible without justice.” When questioned about justice might mean for Palestinians in their context he replied, an application of international law. (This, as mentioned previously, coincides with the fact, pointed out by Rabbi Ascherman, that in Hebrew, “justice” and “law” are synonyms.)

On an interesting side note, at one point in the conversation Rev. Ateek made the statement that “our God is an inclusive God, not an exclusive God.” I understood him to be emphasizing the fact that God’s arms are wide open to humanity, and that Jesus came for all people, not just for Christians. When asked if he thought that Muslims and Christians worship (or are talking about) the same God, his response was that there is only one God, but the way we understand and relate to God is different.

I bring this up because one issue in seeking peace between people of different religious communities (e.g., Christians and Muslims and Jews) is how people of faith deal with questions of truth claims, rightly knowing God, etc. Rev. Ateek seemed to be saying that for him, he has found the way, life, the truth, in Jesus; but that he can’t say that Muslims or Jews (or anyone else) are unacceptable to God. In his view, and practice, we must be true to our faith, to what we understand, and we must also embrace others of different faiths, leaving judgment to God.

I think the members of our group were challenged by Rev. Ateek, in several respects. His language is not typical of western “evangelical” Christian ways of talking. Some of his concepts and perhaps his approaches, do not feel comfortable to us. But that, I think, is good, and is the point of our meeting with him and others. We are outsiders to the conflict, to the context. We need to meet and listen to and learn from the insiders to the situation, those for whom this is their life and struggle, day in and day out, year after year. And perhaps our understanding, not just of peace and peacemaking, but also of faith and of God, will be challenged and expanded in the process.

For further insight into the work and thinking of Rev. Ateek I would recommend his books, Justice and Only Justice, and A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation.

A Palestinian Christian Cry For Reconciliation by Naim Stifan Ateek         Justice, And Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology Of Liberation by Naim Stifan Ateek

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