"Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit" (Zechariah 4:6)
A personal meditation by Fr. Guido Gockel, written28 October 2001
Today is Saturday. A day that holds out a promise to the people of Bethlehem and the surrounding villages that, after a siege of more than a week, the Israeli tanks and troops will withdraw this evening after the Shabbat is over.
How often have we experienced in the past year every simmer of hope for peace being snuffed out the very moment our hearts delighted in its prospects? There is a clear pattern, that when there are greater prospects for peace, a disaster strikes creating an opportunity to jeopardize the peace, thus squashing the hope in people’s hearts.
"The people of this land want peace. The majority of the Palestinian people are farmers with little interest in politics. If religious fundamentalism gained strong support in other nations or in the refugee camps, among the Palestinians in the Holy Land it only gained minimal support," remarked a leader in Jericho, whom I visited during the siege, having to cross deep trenches dug by the Israelis 60 kilometers long around the city.
The quest for peace in the Holy Land is not a matter of black and white, of Israelis against Palestinians or vice versa. Yes, there is right and wrong. The atrocities committed against the Palestinian people who cry for justice and peace, makes "Rachel weep for her children" (Matt. 2:18). Likewise she sheds her tears for the Israelis, who want security, and for those "who are no more" due to the brutal bomb attacks and killings by Palestinian political factions and gangs.
However, these crimes against one another, this tit for tat, this revenge and counter-revenge show those who truly love peace that, in the words of St. Paul, "We are not fighting against flesh and blood but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephes. 6:12).
In the past year I have come to understand the meaning of this passage much better. Obviously, when I am confronted with all the horror and destruction in the Palestinian homes – I have visited well over 300 destroyed or damaged homes – and I experience the grief of people who have lost a dear one, everything in me shouts and screams.
Upon reflection I realize that the Israelis too fall victim to the same emotions, that they too want to cry out because of the injustices committed against them. Then I come to understand that indeed "our fight is not against flesh and blood" – although it seems like that – but against much greater powers and structures that terrorize all our lives, that capitalize on our emotional reactions and direct us to do the things we hate. As St. Paul says: "For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. …Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom. 8:15,24-25)
The easiest response in circumstances where we experience injustice or wrong is to let go, to let anger, hatred, revenge, bad words reign in our hearts. – I am not talking about righteous anger, but about a righteous response. -We can even feel right and good about it, because, what is happening is so obviously unjust. However, the more difficult and courageous response to make is to remain peaceful, calm, and not let anger and hatred have victory in our heart. It was the response Jesus gave when he stood before Pilate.
"Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit" (Zech. 4:6). These words of the prophet come to mind as we are living the current conflict in the Holy Land – and, aren’t they also applicable to the war presently fought against terrorism? Power and might, military force and war seem the obvious solution to the problems, and the clear way to establish peace. This is the temptation of humankind. This the temptation that we need to be delivered of, when Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord's Prayer "Do not lead us into temptation." And when he adds "But deliver us from all evil," isn’t he teaching us to ask God himself to intervene by the power of his Spirit?
This is the temptation we face in the Holy Land, in the Land of Peace, in the City of Peace, to use human force to establish peace. It is called the Land and City of Peace because here Jesus came "to bring peace on earth" and, after his death and resurrection, imparted peace as his first gift. We therefore should not be surprised that more than anywhere else in the world the "principalities, the powers, the world rulers of this present darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" try to rob the Prince of Peace of his Kingdom of Peace.
The suffering of the people of the Holy Land – Christians, Muslims and Jews - who feel crushed by the battles fought around them, is a participation in the suffering of our Lord and Savior who came to bring peace upon earth. He tells us, "A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you" (John 15:20). In other words it is our call as people living in the Holy Land, as people who desire peace, to live joyfully the life of the Lord, who suffered and died to bring us peace, and who invites us, saying, "If any one would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).
In the midst of the suffering it is our task as Christians, not just to cry out for justice and peace, but also to live the message of peace by allowing justice and peace to reign in our own hearts by the power of "God’s love, which has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Romans 5:5). I cannot have peace in my heart, if I do not apply the golden rule that "what you wish men would do to you, do so to them" (Matt. 7:12).
Maybe the above may show us also a light on how to pray for peace. We should pray for peace, for the Spirit is given to those who ask, seek and knock. We are explicitly told that "every one who asks receives" (Matt. 7:8), and that "if you ask anything in my name I will do it" (John 14:13). Often one hears the complaint that we pray so much for peace in the Holy Land, and yet strife prevails. Doesn't the Lord want to establish his peace here? Perhaps the Lord wants us to examine our hearts first. Do you allow Christ's peace to reign in your heart? Do you resist his gift of peace to you? When I begin to reflect on the words of the prophet that "not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit" I will bring peace, I may begin to understand why it takes such a long time for peace to be established, why my prayer for peace is not as yet answered, and why it is so important that I persevere in praying for peace.
Maybe then I will make the prayer of the Psalmist my prayer of peace: "O that today you would listen to his voice and not harden your hearts" (Psalm 95:7-8).