3rd Sunday of Advent Year C (2018)
Forty Martyrs'; St Bede's
“Shout for joy, daughter of Zion...Zion have no fear”.
Zion is another name for Jerusalem, and sometimes stands for the wider territory of Judah. More specifically the title seems to have been associated with the mountain to the north east of the City of David on which Solomon built the first Temple in which to house the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God's presence with and closeness to his people.
Anyone who has lived close to a mountain knows why it is in many cultures an apt symbol for God. Mountains impress by their bulk; they have mood swings, glowing in the dawn's early light, radiant in sunshine; glowering, moody and murky when clouds darken and cover it. Even the glistening Table Cloth which at times pleasingly covers Table Mountain, its vapours poring over and down its sides, announces danger. The cable car does not run, and walkers are warned about the treacherous mists. Moody and magnificent, this mountain, like the gods of old.
Zion however, is, as mountains go, unimpressive. It is far from the highest in the area and has none of the imposing snow capped brilliance of Mt Herman, or the epic grandeur of sea-washed Mt Carmel. What made Jerusalem a viable fortress and an apt location for David's capital were its impregnable steep sides, when walls surmounted them and, in the valley below a spring, called Gihon. Without water life is unsustainable. In the arid hill country with uncertain rain fall, the spring was life. King Hezekiah brought the waters into the city's walls to ensure its protection from Assyrian forces who has destroyed Samaria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel. His engineers worked from each end, and astonishingly, met in the middle. Pilgrims and Bible-students walk through the tunnel today, splashing knee deep in the chilly waters, and emerge at the Pool of Siloam.
Lacking spectacular topography Zion needed an impressive history, and so became linked with Adam and the mountain where Isaac was bound by his father, obeying God's testing command, and where a ram was sacrificed in its place. The Mountain of Moriah became Mount Zion. Within the shrine of the Golden Dome of the Rock is a bare stone said to be the very place of the Binding. From this rock, Buraq, the horse of Mohammed, leapt heavenwards taking its rider to Paradise on his 'night journey' from Mecca to Jerusalem and heavenwards, which authenticates the place as the third most significant site in Islam.
This event did not cause any hostilities with the Jewish community as Jews had been banned from Jerusalem since the second revolt against Rome in 137CE when plans by Emperor Hadrian to establish a Roman city on the site of Jerusalem caused a rebellion led by Simon Bar Kochba which ended as ignominiously as the first. In 70 CE the Romans had destroyed city and Temple, leaving only two towers standing to display to the world both how mighty had been the city's defences and what power the Legions had which could destroy them. After the second revolt the Roman city, Aelia Capitolina was built over the ruins of the city of David and Jews were exiled from the Land God had promised to Abraham and his descendants for ever.
The return of Jews to the Land began in earnest in the 1920s and became a flood after the second world war and the horror of the Shoah, the Holocaust, was revealed, but the immigration had begun towards the end of the nineteenth century as a movement developed which took its name from the hill upon which the Temple had stood. Zion-ism argued and fought for Jews to be given a homeland. A promise to make this happen was stated in the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The promise was matched with a declaration ensuring protection for the Palestinians who had lived there for generations. These were mostly Muslims but included a significant number of Christians: “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
After the British gave up control, harried out by militant Zionists, who also drove thousands of Palestinians from their homes, the State of Israel came into being in 1948. The achievements of Israel in the time since its foundation are remarkable and praiseworthy; its treatment of Palestinians less so. Israel is constantly readied for war. The Palestinians have, throughout this period, been inadequately led, and chances for a just peace have been missed.
Two of the Jewish professors who spoke to us on the Sabbatical were American in their upbringing. Each grew up believing every Christian wanted to kill them. In Jerusalem they met the Sisters of Zion and realised that this was not true, and became friends with the Sisters and the many groups who pass through their doors. Like many others Jews within the Land and in the Diaspora they wish for a just, two-state solution.
One of many who are working for dialogue between all parties in the Land is David Neuhaus SJ. He is South African by birth, and by birth white and a Jew. He was sent by his parents as a teenager to Israel to escape apartheid and its evils. In Israel he met Catholics and converted; then he joined the Jesuits. He is a gifted linguist and studied, among other things, Scripture at the Biblicum in Rome. He lives again in Jerusalem and among his weekly tasks, he goes into the West Bank to teach Christianity to Muslims in Arabic. He is uniquely placed to know what is happening among all sides in this complex kaleidoscope of moving, colourful, worrisome parts. He is also a delightful person who is working hard to help people talk to others, not of their group.
Outside Jerusalem, the border with the occupied West Bank is marked by a huge and ugly wall. It is a defensive measure to prevent bombers entering. Pope Francis stopped his car to stand and silently pray there. One of the Pope's grand titles is Pontifex Maximus, the great bridge-builder. That is what David Neuhaus and many others are doing. There is need for, not walls, but more bridges to be built in the Land of Jesus' birth.
“Zion have no fear”.