Yesterday, an emaciated Gilad Shalit returned home to Israel a national hero. His short journey, televised around the world, the first step in the long-awaited prisoner exchange between the Israeli government and the Islamist group Hamas. Whilst Shalit shook in front of the cameras, the West Bank & Gaza strip saw jubilant scenes as the expectant crowds prepared to welcome the simultaneous release of over 400 Palestinian prisoners. Another 500 will follow them to freedom in the next few weeks.
One man for a thousand is an extraordinary exchange, whichever side of this deep divide you stand on. The BBC were at pains to report that this was nothing more than a political transaction, there should be no reading between the lines of a greater peace narrative.
Even so, it’s hard to escape the powerful symbolism of one man being exchanged for the freedom of the many, especially when you paint in the scenery that this particular backdrop offers. 2000 years ago, a similar crowd shouted for the release of a prisoner and the execution of another. Once again, the mob got their way. This old story is still the one that marks out history, & defines the present,longstanding Arab/Israeli conflict.
In the big narrative of the gospel of course, the tables were turned. Shalit walks free today, exchanged for 1000 Palestinians who also return to their families. Jesus, walked into death, in order that a multitude might be led into freedom. Here the rich symbolism runs out of road – there is quite simply nothing to compare to this kind of prisoner exchange.
Despite the cynical pessimism of the BBC, perhaps this story can help to open the eyes of some to the most important peace issue of all – that of man and his maker. Surely, the peace between neighbours finds it’s rightful place when we get peace with God? Either way, there is no getting past the scandal that the root to reconciliation for these dislocated peoples lies in the story of a Jewish Jesus whom both the Jews & the Arabs continue to reject. Let's not be cynical, let's pray for them.