Hello friends . . . grace and peace,
This morning, several of us from the Palestine of Jesus course went to the Episcopal Cathedral here in Jerusalem. It is a beautiful place (see photo above). This cathedral serves the entire Diocese of Jerusalem which includes the countries of Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Syria, and Lebenon. Bishop Suheil Dawani presided as officiant and the Dean of the Cathedral, Rev. Hosam Naoum was the preacher.
The service was in Arabic about 75% of the time as the Cathedral is in a Palestinian part of Jerusalem. The rest of the liturgy was in english. The liturgy was a version of Rite 2 in the Book of Common Prayer but it has been modified over the years to be owned by the Diocese of Jerusalem. For example, a line in their liturgy talks of Jesus dying and rising again “here in Jerusalem”. There’s only ONE CITY in the world in which that will work, right? Pretty awesome.
One of the most striking things, however, was hearing the Old Testament and Gospel readings in Arabic. It was impossible to understand what was being said. For example, here is the Gospel reading we heard today.
وَفِيمَا كَانَ يَسُوعُ يَمْشِي عَلَى شَاطِيءِ بُحَيْرَةِ الْجَلِيلِ، رَأَى سِمْعَانَ وَأَخَاهُ أَنْدَرَاوُسَ يُلْقِيَانِ الشَّبَكَةَ فِي الْبُحَيْرَةِ، فَقَدْ كَانَا صَيَّادَيْنِ.
فَقَالَ لَهُمَا يَسُوعُ: «هَيَّا اتْبَعَانِي، فَأَجْعَلُكُمَا صَيَّادَيْنِ لِلنَّاسِ!»
فَتَرَكَا شِبَاكَهُمَا وَتَبِعَاهُ.
ثُمَّ سَارَ مِنْ هُنَاكَ قَلِيلاً، فَرَأَى يَعْقُوبَ بْنَ زَبَدِي وَيُوحَنَّا أَخَاهُ فِي الْقَارِبِ يُصْلِحَانِ الشِّبَاكَ،
فَدَعَاهُمَا فِي الْحَالِ لِيَتْبَعَاهُ، فَتَرَكَا أَبَاهُمَا زَبَدِي فِي الْقَارِبِ مَعَ الأُجَرَاءِ، وَتَبِعَاهُ.
Hard to understand, is it not? Unless you speak or read Arabic, it’s actually impossible. And yet, it’s still God’s Word, is it not? Lack of understanding does not mean it’s not of God. In fact, the opposite is usually true. Many times, BECAUSE we don’t understand, we take it to mean that it MUST be God. As the prophet Isaiah said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” (55:8)
In his sermon today, Fr. Hosam preached on the Gospel reading. For about 10 minutes, he spoke only is Arabic. We listened, with a total lack of understanding. Nothing, no part of what he said, made even the slightest bit of sense to us. And yet, we knew he was preaching about God, and Jesus. After he finished, he paused for a moment, shuffled his notes, and began preaching the same sermon in english!
The Gospel passage for the day was Mark 1:16-20 . . . the calling of the first disciples. James and John, sons of Zebedee, as well as Simon and his brother Andrew. Fr. Hosam spoke about discipleship, being called by Jesus to follow him in all aspects of our lives. He shared with us that this call that Jesus gives to the discples and to us, is nothing new in the narrative of the scriptures. Throughout history God has called people to partner with God and join with God in order to be God’s presence on earth. God is constantly looking for a Body that will show the world who God is and what God is like.
But many times, as we see in the scriptures, the people called by God do not (and perhaps can not) fully comprehend what God is calling them into. Their lack of understanding is palpable. And yet, the majority of the time, they say “yes” and they follow, despite their lack of understanding.
May we, despite the times when we do not understand the language God is using, or what the church is doing, or how the world is moving, continue to trust God, to say “yes” to God, and to follow God . . . because that is what God’s people do.