We often associate the work of peacemaking with grand political agreements or far out euphoria that really isn’t worth our time and effort. The more I understand the work of peacemaking through the life and teachings of Jesus, the more I realize peacemaking isn’t a far off ideal, but the very real and tangible realities we choose to live into each day.
I’m currently in the Holy Land to dive deep into the places of conflict to learn from the peacemakers embedded within. It would be easy for me to think the “peacemaking” stuff would wait until I got deep into the West Bank or in an Israeli Settlement, but no, it began the moment I got off the plane.
I was the first person on the Sheruit (mini bus taxi) headed to Jerusalem. As I picked out my ideal seat, I settled in to soak up the culture and geography in our ascent into the Judean hill country toward Jerusalem. Minding my own business, the bus began to fill up with other passengers; a couple from Spain, two younger women appearing to be on pilgrimage and 4 or 5 Orthodox Jewish men. As I settled in, the bus driver tapped me on the shoulder and began talking to me in Hebrew. He quickly realized I was an English speaker and proceeded to ask if I would be willing to move from my prime seat in the front to the very back, middle seat. I was a bit confused until I took a second to assess the situation.
All the Orthodox men were looking at me and I realized that the only seat left for the last Orthodox man to come in the bus was next to a woman in this back middle seat. Knowing that Orthodox Jewish men aren’t supposed to sit next to woman, this was an issue. I was in no way obligated to move, but my choice became quite clear. I could stay in my seat and put my Orthodox friend in a precarious spot that would have led to further chaos among everyone on the bus, or I could give up my prime seat and take the back, middle seat that would probably lead to carsickness. Whether good intentioned or just feeling a bit intimidated by everyone starring at me, I picked up my stuff and gave the man my seat.
Naturally, the woman who he wouldn’t sit next to was quite offended and confused. We talked a bit and it turned to friendly laughter.
A few minutes later, another Orthodox man came in and was faced with a similar situation that would have had him sit by another of the woman on the bus. Before the situation could turn to what we had all just experienced, I quickly grabbed up my stuff and once again moved to a strategic seat that would keep all the Orthodox separated from the women.
It may sound silly or insignificant, but these micro acts of peacemaking matter. They not only do honor to the traditions and convictions of others, they reflect the best of our faith and tradition as followers of Jesus. As we dropped off each man at their respective homes across Jerusalem, they looked at me with genuine gratitude and said, “Thank you.”
In the Holy Land, the temptation is to tune out the modern realities of everyday life and transport oneself back into the historical; which is understandable! Even as the interaction unfolded above, we were driving through the land where the ancient Philistines lived near the coast, into the foothills and up into the Judean hills where Jerusalem rises above it all. These are important realities that are a significant part of a pilgrimage as we connect with earlier parts of our faith story. With that said, the Jesus Way always requires us to put human relationship above any mental time warp that may cause us to disengage from the realities surrounding us. Yes, we can worship through history, but worshiping through loving humanity is our primary call and vocation.
The work of peacemaking is everyday and unfolds in all of life. Even (if not especially!) in these seemingly insignificant micro actions of selfless love.
Why is the Holy land such a dynamic place to be formed in this way? Because there is a collision of dramatically contesting worldviews and traditions.
We must listen. We must learn. And we must act while being the presence of reconciliation Jesus called us to be.