The Palestinian Intifada is the chemical chain reaction caused when the ingredients of pain, disappointment, sadness and anger are mixed together. To this is added just enough acidic despair to turn sour the wine of human hope. How does a man become a terrorist? How much heat and pressure is necessary to turn a piece of coal into a diamond? God knows. He also knows what conditions are necessary to turn a diamond into a piece of burning coal.
Ghettos are breeding grounds of despair. The Wausau Ghetto saw young men and woman rise from desperation and become braver than crack German troops. We cannot compare anything happening now in the world to the Jewish Holocaust, but nothing on earth is more dangerous than a desperate man who has nothing to lose, be it in Gaza or in the South Bronx.
Such a man met his fate one day. He was a Zionist, a zealot, a fanatic or a terrorist, depending on who told his story, but now he faced his executioners. Every man that goes to the gallows arrives there one step at a time after making a series of choices. Perhaps he was humiliated once too often by soldiers that occupied his country. Perhaps he became tired of carrying water for those who mocked his people. Maybe he listened to too many political diatribes and was swept away by a wave of emotion before he became a rock thrower, a seditionist, a thief, a murderer, a criminal. Whatever his reasons, his choices brought him to the gallows. The executioners held him down and fixed him to the instrument of death. Perhaps the Governor would call with a last minute reprieve. It was not to be, at least not for him. During his last moments on earth, not only was he unable to raise a finger in his own defense, he began to feel waves of excruciating pain run through his body. He was dying. Hundreds of people came to watch, to gawk, to see him hang. Suddenly he thought of all the deeds that led him to such an awful place, and he had regrets. He had run out of time and run out of options. He could hear cursing. He also heard someone praying. It was this other voice that grabbed his soul as if a hand reached out to catch a falling fruit just before it hit the ground. Then he had one final choice to make before it was too late. What he did next gave him a place in the annals of history. Although it might appear foolish to everyone who heard him that day, he didn’t care. He turned to the other prisoner, who seemed to be a powerless as he was and said “Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” He who had discussed politics and kingdoms in darkened rooms, now suddenly knew a king when he saw one. “This man has done nothing amiss,” he declared. With that a key turned in the lock and the gates of paradise were about to swing open before him.
When we come to the end of self and see there is nothing we can do to save ourselves from what sin has brought us to, then we have come to the place where God can work. Jesus seemed so incapable of helping anyone that day, but that is exactly why the thief on the cross is such a trophy of grace, and why his faith is famous.
Jews and Arabs are running out of options. The world is at a crossroad. There is still the cross. As we choose sides, let us remember, one thief was no better than the other. Political zeal shouts at the base of the cross and insists that we choose sides. Salvation is not performed for groups. God saves one sinner at a time. It is not as important that we chose the right side as it is that we chose Jesus. Neither is there salvation in any other for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.