The first time I heard the term “living stones,” was when I visited the Holy Land with a Methodist study group in 2008. Elias Chacour (renowned Melkite priest and author of “Blood Brothers” and other works) introduced himself to our group as a “living stone,” a direct descendent of Christ’s original disciples from 2,000 years ago.
When I returned this past October, I kept hearing the phrase – and even seeing it displayed on t-shirts in Jerusalem’s Old City. What many people don’t know about the Holy Land is that it has an active, vibrant, though very small, Christian population and, indeed, many of these Christians can trace their roots back 2,000 years.
When Israel was given statehood in 1948, the phrase “a country without people for a people without a country” was bandied about as justification for awarding the homeless Jews this particular piece of real estate. Those already living there – Christian and Muslim Palestinians – were discounted as insignificant, in numbers and in power. History has proven the error of this particular train of thought. Although the Palestinians were evicted from their land (some of which had been held by their families since the time of the Ottoman Empire), they remain a part of the landscape. Those who have lived in exile since 1948 still have roots deep in their native land – whether they are still living in Palestine/Israel or have re-located to other countries.
The increased fighting we have witnessed in the past few weeks has its roots in this exile – in the Palestinian’s wish to be free from the oppression of occupation and of the Israeli’s wish to claim all of the land that they believe the United Nations – and God – intended for them to have.
Jerimiah 29 advises the exiled people of Jerusalem, “Build houses and make yourselves at home. Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country. Marry and have children…Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare.” When I heard that scripture read in church recently, I was thinking of how that message might apply to the present-day Palestinians: “Build houses…” – and the Israeli bulldozers will knock them down. “Put in gardens…” and crazed settlers will set fire to them and/or pull up the crop to plant their own. “Marry and have children” – sure, but where will those children live when the price of building on to your home is to have that home destroyed? “…work for the country’s welfare” – a noble sentiment, but one that requires super-human effort from a beat-down, forgotten people.
The Christian population of the West Bank is something less than 2% of the entire population. In Israel proper, it is as high as 20% in some areas, much less in others. The “living stones” are diminishing – and many Christians in the Western hemisphere don’t even realize that they ever existed – much less that they exist still.
Is this a reason to be concerned? What will happen to the Christian “holy land” when it is depopulated of the native Christians? And what about those Evangelical Christians who believe that the return of all Jewish people to the Holy Land must occur before the “rapture” can take place? How do they affect the landscape?
Like most who care about Palestine/Israel – as a place, as people, as a part of the landscape for all three “Abramic” religions, I don’t have any answers. But I do have lots of questions…