The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


More than victims

Editor’s note: Below is an excerpt from Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes by Mitri Raheb (Orbis Books, 2014).

Pentecost was more than a vision. It provided a transformational experience for the disciples. 

After the Roman Empire executed Jesus, the disciples were understandably frightened. The movement created by him came to a standstill; its raison d’être seemed to have failed. It appeared that the empire had won. The resurrection didn’t bring about change. Following the resurrection the disciples remained scared and behind closed doors. 

Only after receiving the Holy Spirit were they able to recover their courage and to focus again on their mission. The Spirit not only took their fear away but gave them a real sense for mission and direction.

If not for the resurrection, the disciples might have spent their entire lives mourning Jesus. It is so easy for the oppressed to dwell in mourning and almost revel in whining and self-pity. Without the Spirit the disciples would have continued life as usual in the shadow of the empire. 

One of the biggest temptations for oppressed people is feeling too comfortable in the role of the victim and to enter into a “blame game,” cursing the empire. A major problem for victims of all empires is to identify so strongly with this role that they become double victims: victims of the empire and victims of themselves.

Sometimes, when I hear some Jewish people talk, I feel as if they speak with a monopoly on victimhood. Sometimes I feel that some Palestinians feel that they must compete with the Jews over who is the greater victim. And sometimes when I read articles and books by Middle Eastern authors, I come across a conspiracy theory that makes the Arabs mere victims of the superpowers. 

It is both reassuring and comfortable to feel oneself a victim because then one is neither responsible for the situation nor accountable. But even the weakest victim is also an actor who has to make choices and decisions — and assume responsibility. Simply blaming the empire doesn’t help. In fact, it makes the victim feel more depressed, more helpless and more hopeless. Playing the role of victim might assist those who are oppressed to gain some sympathy, but not necessarily respect.

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