If you get off at the right bus stop on the way from Ramallah into Jerusalem, you will find yourself just a few yards from the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre. “Sabeel” is an Arabic word meaning “the way”, a “channel” or “spring”. In this case “Sabeel” refers to the Way of Christian discipleship.
As well as the Centre in Jerusalem, Sabeel is “an ecumenical grassroots movement among Palestinians”, which “seeks to make the Gospel contextually relevant, and strives to develop a spirituality based on justice, peace, nonviolence, liberation, and reconciliation for the different faith communities”.
I spent much of yesterday and today at the Centre in East Jerusalem, helping with preparations for the ninth international conference of Sabeel, which will be held in Jerusalem next week. Friends of Sabeel will be coming from the USA, Canada, Sweden, the UK, one or two other European countries, and Brazil. An unknown number of Palestinians will be joining the 180 participants who are expected from overseas.
Before lunch today a group of Friends of Sabeel from the USA arrived in time for the weekly communion service, presided over by Naim Ateek, an Anglican priest who is director of Sabeel. The Gospel reading was from Luke’s Gospel.
Some Sadducees, who didn’t believe in resurrection, asked Jesus what would happen in heaven after a woman had been married to each of seven brothers in turn after each one died. When she then also died, to which of the seven brothers would she be married in heaven? Jesus explained that people would not be married in heaven. And he went on to tell the Sadducees that God is the God of the living and not of the dead. Moses recognised God in the burning bush as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, implying that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive.
Instead of a sermon, Naim Ateek shared some reflections on the two Bible passages which had been read and invited other people to share their thoughts. Naim highlighted the contrast between Muslim and Christian Zionist fundamentalists on the one hand and followers of Jesus, who focus on living a life of discipleship during this life, on the other hand.
Both Muslim and Christian Zionist fundamentalists focus on life after death. Muslim fundamentalists imagine that if they are martyred whilst killing their enemies, they will enjoy a life of pleasure and comfort in heaven. There was mention of the stabbing a day or two ago of an Israeli soldier by a 16-year-old Palestinian who had crossed the border from Jenin into Gallilee.
Christian Zionists seek to hasten Christ’s second coming and are not at all concerned about people, Palestinians in particular, who suffer injustice today. Their support for Israel’s Zionist colonisation of the West Bank is extremely destructive.
In contrast, Jesus’ option for the poor and his option for nonviolence form the basis of our discipleship. And discipleship is about how we live our lives in this world, never mind what we imagine might happen in the next.
I’m looking forward to learning more about Sabeel’s theology and praxis during next week’s conference.
Unfortunately, it will be difficult for Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories to take part. They need to obtain a permit for entry into Israel. Jean Zaru, the presiding clerk of the Quaker Meeting in Ramallah, is scheduled to speak at the conference. But she has been refused a permit. So she is having to put in a new application…