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Archbishop Thabo Makgoba at Sabeel Conference, Bethlehem: "God, Faithfulness and Resistance"

Friday, March 4, 2011


Bethlehem, Occupied West Bank – The Rev. Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, called Israel’s separation barrier “a wall of strangulation.” Makgoba addressed participants of the Sabeel International Conference, preaching at the Church of all Nations at Gethsemane in Jerusalem 25 February 2011.

More than 200 international participants came to Bethlehem for the conference under the theme, “Challenging Empire: God, Faithfulness and Resistance.” Sabeel is the ecumenical liberation theology center based in Jerusalem.

“We must not be na├»ve in speaking about South Africa while standing in Jerusalem,” Makgoba said. “The wall of strangulation or `beautification’ is worse than the South African pass laws, the Bantustans or homelands, and racial discrimination,” he said. Visiting with Palestinians in Bethlehem and Hebron is “an experience I will treasure,” he said, and, “I will rededicate myself to the pursuit of justice.”

Makgoba called for “prophetic theology.” He said, “We must do this especially from the perspective of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the outcast, the powerless, the voiceless, the Palestinians – for all of whom God has a particular option, as Jesus affirmed when he (…) set out what we might call the `manifesto’ of his ministry.”

Makgoba shared aspects of Christians’ struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. “Faith helps us resist the assumptions of empire,” he said. “For we subvert all its norms when we dare to live as Jesus lived and taught (…) when we dare to believe that blessings come when we love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and practice radical forgiveness – even as we raise our voices for justice and act to transform unjust structures,” he said.

In Bethlehem, bible study leader Ched Myers presented a radical Jesus unfamiliar to most Christians today. Myers is the author of Binding the Strong Man and a partner in Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, Oak View, Calif., USA.

“Jesus publically identifies with the notorious John the Baptizer, whose message of repentance was directed not just to a personal change of heart but to the whole nation. Jesus and his followers were complicit In John’s rebel movement,” Myers said.

Jesus did not propose “a utopian dream that can only be realized in heaven or the afterlife,” Myers said. “Jesus’ gospel leaves no room for otherworldly religion: `The time is now; the sovereignty of God is here.’ (Mark 1:15),” he said.

Myers called the destruction of Palestinian olive trees by Israeli settlement development “economic warfare” and compared it to Roman economic oppression of formerly self-sufficient fishermen in Jesus’ time. Fisherman had "fallen to the bottom of an increasingly elaborate economic hierarchy. It stands to reason that peasant fisherman would have been particularly responsive to a call to resist,” Myers said.

Myers explained that Nazareth in Galilee, Jesus’ home town, was located in the neighborhood of the demolished city of Sepphoris, re-built by the Romans as a powerful administrative center. “It was a dramatic case of imposing a colonial settlement on an indigenous landscape. Sepphoris would have towered over Nazareth, like the [Israeli] Har Homa settlement does over Bethlehem today, even more so,” Myers said.
Jesus the carpenter might have walked about an hour to get work in the new imperial city. “The trauma of Sepphoris’ destruction and reconstruction as an imperial city right at his doorstep would have had a profound impact on his consciousness, infusing in him a keen sense of the travails of empire,” Myers said.

Myers outlined some aspects of “the Jesus of the gospels that tend to be overlooked by churches today,” including “going to the roots of our tradition and of our social crisis” and apprenticing ourselves with “older traditions of resistance and renewal.”


Reporter: Ann Hafften
Sabeel Media Coordinator: Nicolas Atallah
phone: 0526822443