Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” (Psalm 122.6-8)
It’s Time to Pray
Last Thursday, King Abdullah II of Jordan appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Like millions of viewers, I count on the program to leaven current events with doses of irreverence and irony. It helps that my politics hew to the show’s liberal slant. Still, I’d probably enjoy it even if I disagreed with its editorial position, since its primary target is foible. “Feet of Clay” might be a more fitting name for it. Four nights a week, the show serves up deliciously sardonic examples of officials, pundits, and firebrands stumbling badly. But now and then it transcends comedy. This happened Thursday, as Jordan’s monarch—the moderate leader of a nation encircled by political and religious animosity—discussed his region’s turmoil. He made one point that staggered me with dread. If the moratorium on Jewish settlements in the West Bank isn’t extended past its September 30 expiration, war between Israel and her Arabic neighbors will follow. I spent Friday contemplating how rapidly the conflict might escalate as nations lined up behind either side. Then I opened Saturday’s readings to find Psalm 122: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” With the moratorium deadline days away, it’s time to pray.
“Jerusalem” is a compound name combining an ancient Semitic word meaning “to teach” with another that means “peace.” Yet in the fifty-plus years I’ve been alive the sun hasn’t risen on a single day that assured peace inside it walls. “Peace in the Middle East” is a punch line akin to “when Hell freezes over”—except there’s no joke to set it up. If there were, it would no longer be laughable anywhere on the planet, as the intense hatred dividing its Jewish and Muslim occupants has triggered violence everywhere, from lower Manhattan to Bali. That Jerusalem, literally and symbolically, rests at the heart of global strife is all the more surprising when we consider its Islamic name, al-Quds Sharif, or “The Holy Sanctuary.” Of all places, Jerusalem should be the safest, calmest, most peaceful city on Earth. It should be “the city on the hill” that Jesus speaks of in the Sermon on the Mount. Its residents and culture should be the ideal every other community aspires to, the epicenter of tolerance and good will. Its sole preoccupation should be teaching peace and providing a worthy sanctuary for God’s presence. It should be. But it hasn’t been for so long we immediately associate it with everything but what its name suggests. Thus, we pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
We must be very canny in how we pray, because many have mistaken the psalmist’s entreaty as a biblical directive to side with Israel at all costs, at all times. The psalmist calls us to pray for peace and nothing else. That’s the issue—not religious or political allegiance. Peace. If not patently wrong, it’s simplistic for Christians to assume we’re obligated to uphold modern Israel’s policies based on ancient texts, if for no other reason than those texts suggest otherwise. Throughout Scripture, Israel, as a nation and people, is as prone to sin and error as anyone else. Chapter after chapter, God confronts the injustice of its actions and vanity of its disobedience. Its complex relationship with God is beyond our depth. The same applies to Islam’s relationship with Allah. The issues to be worked out concern the three of them—God/Allah, Israel, and Islam. Meddling in their madness inevitably invites suffering for us, because we risk promoting injustice out of ignorance. The best we can do, the only thing we can do, is pray for peace in Jerusalem, the Teacher of Peace, for peace in al-Quds Sharif, the Holy Sanctuary.
The psalmist tells us exactly what to pray. “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” (v6-7) Our prayer favors neither side. It’s a plea for God’s intervention, asking Him to neutralize a situation that history proves is beyond human ability to control. Before we pray, we must rid ourselves of every predisposition and opinion about the conflict and those it involves. Praying that either side prevails prays against peace. More than that, in a very real—and dangerous—sense, it denies our faith in an all wise, just, and loving God. We forget our heritage as Gentile believers is made possible through Christ’s abolition of racial preferences. While we date the Church’s birth at Pentecost, non-Jewish believers' birth into It comes a bit later, in Acts 10, when Peter’s epiphany regarding God’s grace brings Him to this conclusion: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (v34-35) A prayer for Jerusalem that favors Israel or Islam exceeds its purpose. It tacitly excuses sins committed by the favored side—and who can dispute both have sinned egregiously? In Psalm 66.18-19 we read startling words: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.” To prefer Israel over Islam or vice versa as we pray for peace raises grave questions whether our prayer will even be heard.
In his interview with Stewart, King Abdullah II superbly explained that sustained peace in Jerusalem will contribute greatly to the collapse of global terrorism. The Palestinian cause has been co-opted by haters to wreak death and destruction worldwide, attacking Israel's allies as punishment for their allegiance, he said. Once peace in Jerusalem prevails, terrorism will become a matter of urgency for nations that have permitted it to flourish unchecked. So peace in Jerusalem will, at last, fulfill the promise of its name. In light of the King’s comments, Psalm 122.8 rings with hope for people everywhere: “For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’” Today, and every day—through September 30 and beyond—when we pray Our Lord’s Prayer, I trust we’ll offer it as a prayer not just for us but for Jerusalem’s peace, for al-Quds Sharif’s peace. "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven." We pray for the peace of Jerusalem—for the sake of the world.
“May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. Amen.”
Postscript: The Interview
If you didn’t catch Jon Stewart’s interview with King Abdullah II, here is the broadcast portion. The remainder of the interview can be found here, where the King expands on his comments, including the complexity of the situation and his nation’s role in attempting to broker peace in Jerusalem.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|King Abdullah II of Jordan|