blood brothers

This is a much longer extract from the book ‘Blood Brothers’ by Elias Chacour, which i do encourage everyone to read. Both as a glimpse into the Israel/Palestine history and situation, but also as a much deeper journey of faith and wrestling with ideas of God and kingdom.

This passage it helps to have read the rest of the book to understand the full story of, but a brief background is that Abu Mouhib is the policeman in the town, that the author is the new church leader in, and has a completely messed up with his three brothers and has for years. He also is not a big fan of the author.

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When I finally reached the home of Abu Mouhib, where the woman had been residing, I was shaking visibly. He hesitated a moment before allowing me to enter. He disliked me, I knew, though he did come to church on rare occasions. This was not the time to express personal dislikes, however, and he showed me to his mother’s sickroom.

Far into the dark morning hours, I sat with the dying woman, whispering a few timid words of comfort. Those years in seminary had failed to prepare me for this. In my sweating palm lay her tremulous, blue-veined hand. It was cold and curled up like an alabaster leaf. Her breathing came in rasps for an hour or so—and then it ceased. With icy fingers, I closed her eyes.

My legs were rubber when I told Abu Mouhib that his mother was dead. Trying the best I could to comfort, I offered to go and tell his three brothers. “They would like to come and see her, I’m sure.”

Abu Mouhib’s grieving features stiffened into a scowl. “No!”he shouted. “My brothers do not set foot in my house. If they dare to come here, you will have five funerals on your hands, because we will kill each other.”

A chill shook me. Even the death of their mother would not draw these brothers together. As I helped wrap the woman’s frail body, I grieved for her—for her sons, and for the whole village.

A gray, faint light lit the streets as I made my way back home. A deadening exhaustion stooped my shoulders. I wanted only to crawl into my Volkswagen and sleep for hours and hours. As I squeezed myself into the backseat, however, I felt a real ache of grief in my chest—grief and anger. Sleep would not come.

I lay there wrestling against the whole world of conflict that sprawled around me. In my head, I lunged at the four brothers in an angry conversation, telling them how disgusted I was at their behavior. Couldn’t they forgive each other now when they needed to honor their own mother?

And they were not the only ones I attacked. The image of the Responsible smirked at me in the half-light, and I flung hard words in his face. I railed at the priest who had stolen from the church; at fellow seminarians who had slandered all Palestinians, calling us “terrorists”; at seminary professors; at the principal who had punished me at the school in Nazareth.

Another image appeared vividly . . . a military policeman towering over a small boy, whipping him with a stick . . . I heard cries . . . my own voice . . . I was picking up a stick, beating, smashing the man’s head until he fell unconscious . . . bleeding. . . . There were tanks on the hills of Biram . . . explosions . . . our homes stood fast while the tanks blew apart . . . and the agonized bodies of soldiers. . . .

Then I knew.

Silent, still, I lay there, aware for the first time that I was capable of vicious, killing hatred. Aware that all men everywhere—despite the thin, polite veneer of society—are capable of hideous violence against other men. Not just the Nazis or the Zionists or the Palestinian commandos—but me. I had covered my hurts with Christian responses, but inside the anger had gnawed. With this sudden, startling view of myself, a familiar inner voice spoke firmly, without compromise: If you hate your brother, you are guilty of murder. Now I understood.

I was aware of other words being spoken. A Man was dying a hideous death at the hands of His captors—a Man of Peace, who suffered unjustly—hung on a cross. Father, forgive them, I repeated. And forgive me, too.

In that moment, forgiveness closed the long-open gap of anger and bitterness inside me. From the time I had been beaten as a small boy, I had denied the violence inside me. Now . . . the taming hand that had taught me compassion on the border of West Germany had finally stilled me enough to see the deep hatred in my own soul.

Physically and emotionally spent, I fell asleep. Later that morning, I woke with a new, clean feeling of calmness. The change that had begun on my visit to the Mount of Beatitudes was complete.

I knew what I must do in Ibillin.

My year and a half of home visits and the sisters’months of ministrations had made a dent—a small dent—in reuniting the believers of Ibillin. Few attended the church regularly, and walls of hostile silence remained firm. However, most of them would not think of missing services during the Christmas and Easter seasons, coming to be comforted by familiar customs, not out of desire for true spiritual renewal. True to the pattern, attendance increased markedly on the first Sunday of Lent, growing each week as Easter approached.

On Palm Sunday, every bench was packed. Nearly the entire congregation had come, plus a few other villagers whom I had invited. The weather that morning was balmy, with a warm, light wind straying through the streets, so I left the doors wide open, hoping that passersby might be attracted by our singing. When I stood up, raising my hands to signal the start of the service, I was jolted by stark, staring faces.

Looks of open hostility greeted me. The Responsible’s faction was clustered on one side of the church, almost challenging me with their icy glares. Indifferently, those whom the Responsible had ostracized sat on the opposite side. I was amazed to see Abu Mouhib, the policeman, perched in the very front row with his wife and children. In each of the other three quadrants of the church, as distant from one another as possible, were his three brothers. The sisters, I could tell, felt the tension, too, for their faces were blanched. I rose and began the first hymn, certain that no one would be attracted by our pathetically dismal singing. I thought, with sadness, of the battle lines that were drawn across the aisles of that sanctuary. And nervously, I hoped that no one would notice the odd lump in the pocket beneath my vestment.

What followed was undoubtedly the stiffest service, the most unimpassioned sermon of my life. The congregation endured me indifferently, fulfilling their holiday obligation to warm the benches. But then, they did not suspect what was coming. At the close of the liturgy, everyone rose for the benediction. I lifted my hand, my stomach fluttering, and paused. It was now or never.

Swiftly, I dropped my hand and strode toward the open doors at the back of the church. Every eye followed me with curiosity. I drew shut the huge double doors, which workmen had rehung for me. From my pocket, I pulled a thick chain, laced it through the handles and fastened it firmly with a padlock.

Returning to the front, I could almost feel the temperature rising. Or was it just me? Turning to face the congregation, I took a deep breath.

“Sitting in this building does not make you a Christian,”I began awkwardly. My voice seemed to echo too loudly in the shocked silence. The sisters’eyes were shut, their lips moving furiously in prayer. “

You are a people divided. You argue and hate each other—gossip and spread malicious lies. What do the Moslems and the unbelievers think when they see you? Surely that your religion is false. If you can’t love your brother that you see, how can you say you love God who is invisible? You have allowed the body of Christ to be disgraced.”

Now the shock had turned to anger. The Responsible trembled and seemed as though he was about to choke. Abu Mouhib tapped his foot angrily and turned red around the collar. In his eyes, though, I thought I detected something besides anger.

Plunging ahead, my voice rose. “For many months, I’ve tried to unite you. I’ve failed, because I’m only a man. But there is someone else who can bring you together in true unity. His name is Jesus Christ. He is the one who gives you power to forgive. So now I will be quiet and allow Him to give you that power. If you will not forgive, we will stay locked in here. You can kill each other and I’ll provide your funerals gratis.”

Silence hung. Tight-lipped, fists clenched, everyone glared at me as if carved from stone. I waited. With agonizing slowness, the minutes passed. Three minutes . . . five . . . ten . . . I could hear, outside, a boy coaxing his donkey up the street and the slow clop-clop of its hooves. Still no one flinched. My breathing had become shallow, and I swallowed hard. Surely I’ve finished everything, I chastised myself, undone all these months of hard work with my – Then a sudden movement caught my eye.

Someone was standing. Abu Mouhib rose and faced the congregation, his head bowed, remorse shining in his eyes. With his first words, I could scarcely believe that this was the same hard-bitten policeman who had treated me so brusquely.

“I am sorry,” he faltered. All eyes were on him. “I am the worst one of all. I’ve hated my own brothers. Hated them so much I wanted to kill them. More than any of you, I need forgiveness.”

And then he turned to me. “Can you forgive me, too, Abuna?”

I was amazed! Abuna means “our father,” a term of affection and respect. I had been called other things since arriving in Ibillin, but nothing so warm.

“Come here,” I replied, motioning him to my side. He came, and we greeted each other with the kiss of peace. “Of course I forgive you,” I said. “Now go and greet your brothers.”

Before he was halfway down the aisle, his three brothers had rushed to him. They held each other in a long embrace, each one asking forgiveness of the others.

In an instant, the church was a chaos of embracing and repentance. Cousins who had not spoken to each other in years wept together openly. Women asked forgiveness for malicious gossip. Men confessed to passing damaging lies about each other. People who had ignored the sisters and me in the streets now begged us to come to their homes. Only the Responsible stood quietly apart, accepting only stiffly my embrace. This second church service— a liturgy of love and reconciliation—went on for nearly a full hour.

In the midst of these joyful reunions, I recalled Father’s words when he had told us why we must receive the Jews from Europe into our home. And loudly, I announced: “We’re not going to wait until next week to celebrate the Resurrection. Let’s celebrate it now. We were dead to each other. Now we are alive again.”

I began to sing. This time our voices joined as one, the words binding us together in a song of triumph: “Christ is risen from the dead. By His death He has trampled death and given life to those in the tomb.”

Even then it did not end. The momentum carried us out of the church and into the streets where true Christianity belongs. For the rest of the day and far into the evening, I joined groups of believers as they went from house to house throughout Ibillin. At every door, someone had to ask forgiveness for a certain wrong. Never was forgiveness withheld. Now I knew that inner peace could be passed from man to man and woman to woman.

As I watched, I recalled, too, an image that had come to me as a young boy in Haifa. Before my eyes, I was seeing a ruined church rebuilt at last— not with mortar and rock, but with living stones.

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[Chapter 10, Tough Miracles]

[For more from Blood Brothers, click here]