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A GOOD Beginning

30 Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37 He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

(Luke 10:30-37, NRSV)

We have some serious runners in our congregation. There’s Jim McMorris who has run thousands of miles in his lifetime. There’s Joe Marchese who, despite his asthma, has been running since 1982. And there’s Jacob Burgess, who ran the NYC Marathon in 3 hours and 58 minutes.

Last Tuesday night Colleen and I went running in Manhattan. We weren’t running for our health. We were running since we were late for the 7 PM Lincoln Center Theater production of Oslo. By all rights we should not have had to run. Earlier in the day I checked Google maps which predicted that we could walk the 30 blocks from Penn Station to Lincoln Center in 37 minutes. The one thing neither Google nor we took into account was the rush hour crush of humanity headed downtown as we tried to walk uptown. Swimming against the stream almost doubled the time for us to reach our destination. We power walked up 8th Avenue obsessively glancing at our watches until we came to the conclusion that if we didn’t pick up the pace we’d never get there on time. So we ran for it dodging business people, tourists, bicycles, and baby carriages until we slipped into the theater just under the wire. One minute after we plopped in our seats the lights were lowered and the play began. We didn’t even get the chance to thumb through the complimentary Playbill.

The play was riveting, having recently won the 2017 Tony for Best Play. A 3-hour production, Oslo tells the true, though little known back story, which led to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords signed by both the Israelis and the Palestinians. The back-channel negotiations in Norway near Oslo were top secret even from the highest levels of government for a time.

According to one source, “Oslo concerns the true story of the efforts of Mona Juul and her husband, Terje Rød-Larsen, who are diplomats from Norway, and who organized breakthrough negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman, Yasser Arafat, in 1993…The play originated from a chance connection between playwright J. T. Rogers and Norwegian diplomat Terje Rød-Larsen, through a mutual acquaintance…Rogers learned of the diplomat’s unheralded work developing ‘back-channel’ communications in the 1990’s negotiations, and took an interest in developing the story into a play — noting that the story fit his playwriting interests [since it was]: ... ‘framed against great political rupture ... [about people] who struggle with, and against ... [unfolding] world events — and who are [permanently changed] through that struggle.’”[1]

So what is the legacy of the Oslo Accords? The Accords resulted in the “recognition by the PLO of the State of Israel and the recognition by Israel of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and as a partner in negotiations. The Oslo Accords created a Palestinian Authority tasked with limited self-governance of parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip… . The most important questions relate to the borders of Israel and Palestine, Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem, and Israel’s military presence in and control over the remaining territories.”[2]

As you may recall, the 1993 Accords were signed during a White House ceremony involving both Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and Yasser Arafat, Chair of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The most iconic image from the day was the handshake between Arafat and Rabin, which was unexpected by many.

At the end of the play, the actors recite the dates and names of significant people and incidents involving the Israelis and Palestinians from 1993 to the present day. Sadly, not all of the hopes of the Oslo Accords came to pass. Nevertheless, the play ended on a positive note with a reminder that despite continued conflicts between Israel and Palestine, the Oslo Accords were nevertheless a “good beginning.”

Today’s scripture lesson tells the familiar story of an encounter between an Israelite and the aptly named Good Samaritan. In today’s world it could be an encounter between an Israeli and a Palestinian because ancient Samaria makes up part of today’s West Bank. Looking at the story of the Good Samaritan through the lens of the ongoing struggle between Palestine and Israel yields important lessons in peacemaking. When the Israeli’s wounds had healed and he went to the front desk to check out and pay his room service and mini bar charges, the innkeeper told him that the Palestinian had already paid for all of it.

What must the Israeli have thought? Perhaps he shook his head in amazement at the abundant generosity of the Palestinian. The key here is the relationship between the injured Israeli and the Palestinian. Going forward when the Israeli heard anyone demonizing the Palestinians as a whole he might say, “Now wait a minute. Let me tell you a story about a Good Palestinian who, at risk to his own safety, may very well have saved my life. As I lay injured by the side of the road I could not believe my eyes. First of all, one of the ministers’ from The Congregational Church of Jerusalem crossed to the other side of the street while avoiding eye contact with me. Next, my elected representative to the Knesset started walking faster when he saw me, like he was afraid of being attacked.

I was drifting in and out of consciousness wishing someone would call 911 when a stranger stopped to help me. I could tell by the color of his head scarf that he was a Palestinian. When he first touched me I assumed he was looking for my wallet, which had already been stolen. But no. He put a blanket under my head and opened his first aid kit. He cleansed my wounds with peroxide. Applied some antibacterial ointment and then patched me up with gauze and Band-Aids.” The Israeli’s friends were skeptical and one said, “What is one Good Palestinian among the thousands of terrorists out there?” The Israelite replied, “If there is one decent Palestinian there are bound to be others. He didn’t have to help me and had it been him in the ditch and me walking down the road I’m not sure that I would have stopped to help him. Yet he treated me with such kindness. So I’ve made up my mind the next time I see a Palestinian in need, I’ll do what I can to help.” One of his cynical friends piped up and said, “I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish. What good is it to stop and help one person?” The Israelite smiled and replied, “What good is it? I’ll tell you, if nothing else, it’s a good beginning.” Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” AMEN.

Written by Rev. Jimmy Only

July 2, 2017

The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)


Loving God, as we celebrate our nation’s birth this week, we give you thanks for America’s promise and her potential. We are grateful for America’s first inhabitants, and then for wave after wave of immigrants who found in this land a chance to get started or a chance to start over. As laudable as America is at her best, we are aware that we fall short of treating all human beings as equals. So help us, O God, to work untiringly until all of our sisters and brothers, black, brown or white, gay, lesbian, or straight reach the promised land where we all dwell together in harmony. Remind us of the difference the smallest kindness might make as a good beginning.

Through Jesus our brother and friend we pray. AMEN.

[1] Charlie Rose (interviewer), with interviewees diplomat Terje Rød-Larsen, playwright J. T. Rogers, and director Bartlett Sher, with other segments, in Charlie Rose: The Week, May 5, 2017 (Video) as aired May 6, 2017, Public Broadcasting System (PBS)


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