Unsettling Advent 2023, Day 21
“The king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40)
Gaza is holy ground.
The name “Gaza” has been in use since before the time of Moses. And settlements there date back to thousands of years earlier. It’s where Samson was imprisoned and tore down a temple. It’s mentioned by prophets like Amos, Zephaniah, and Zechariah. Philip the disciple was traveling on the road to Gaza when he met and baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. And Gaza is mentioned several other times in the Bible.
But Gaza’s also significant in a biblical story that doesn’t explicitly mention the place. As Joseph and Mary took the baby Jesus to Egypt to flee the genocidal violence of Herod, they surely would’ve trekked right through Gaza. From the little town of Bethlehem, the safest journey — especially for a baby and his mother — would not have been through the desert but to head toward the Mediterranean Sea and then traverse down the coast.
But the holy refugee family wasn’t safe in Gaza. While it had in past centuries been under Egyptian control, Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus had given it to Herod a couple of decades before Jesus’s birth. In Gaza, Herod still ruled. In Gaza, Herod could still rain down his genocidal paranoia and hatred.
The baby Jesus and his parents wouldn’t be safe from Herod today. Jesus could end up like the more than 8,000 children who have died there since Israel started its retaliation after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks. Eight thousand children. Herod the bloodthirsty ruler probably only killed 20 or so in Bethlehem. So it doesn’t quite seem fair to Herod to compare him to Netanyahu.
But unlike 2,000 years ago, the path out of Gaza and into Egypt today remains largely blocked. Virtually no aid is going in, and even fewer people are getting out. All while the local ruler keeps dropping bombs with the support of the world’s most powerful empire.
So as I see images from Gaza, I’ve been imagining what if Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were passing through. Then I remember they are. Whatever we’ve done to the least of these, we’ve done to him. And whatever our government does in our name with our money to the least of these, we’ve done to him.
Even as Gaza is bombed to hell, it’s still holy ground. Because the people there, like those in biblical times, are made in the image of God. And Jesus is still there, watching how we treat him.
Brian Kaylor is president & editor-in-chief of Word&Way.