Hello friends . . . grace and peace,
A day that began in Nazareth and ended in Jerusalem, with so much in between.
It started with a breakfast conversation with Father Kamal when one of our pilgrims noted that Western theology often seems transactional – in order for God to do something, we must do something. Or, when we sin, God moves away and is separated from us. So what happens when we sin, Fr. Kamal was asked. His answer? “God comes closer, but He suffers.”
We pulled away from our guest house at 7:30 am, beginning along the path that Jesus took on his last journey to Jerusalem. Our first stop was the site of Nabot’s vineyard in the Jezreel Valley that Ahab and Jezebel took from him (1 Kings 21). We passed close to Shechem, where Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, known to many today as the story of “Joseph and the Technicolored Dreamboat.” (Genesis 37:12-36) This is also the plain upon which many battles have taken place throughout the centuries, including David against the Philistines (1 Samuel 17), and Gideon against the Midianites (Judges 7).
It was this site that Fr. Kamal talked about the duty of the church to face up to abuses of power. Asked if he meant the church should defy authority, he replied, “I don’t say defy, I say remind, to see justice implemented.”
We drove on to Jericho, which boasts having the longest continuous human presence of any city in the world. Records have humans living there going back more than 10,000 years (older than some people believe the world to be). In Jericho we stopped at Elijah’s Spring which Elisha blessed (2 Kings 2:19-22) and still runs today. We stopped and watched those waters flow. Interestingly enough, every 25 – 30 years, the spring runs bitter for about 2 – 3 days and then returns to the sweet water. No one knows why.
Jericho is also near the Mount of Temptation where Jesus was tempted three times by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). It led to a teaching by Fr. Kamal that temptation is not something to be avoided. Rather, temptations are there for us to use the energy that God has given us in a positive way. We can, of course, also use that energy in destructive ways. But Fr. Kamal challenged us to see the ways in which we can use that energy in positive and transforming ways.
He gave us a teaching on the Essenes who believed that the Messiah would come from its community and would help the blind to see and the lame to walk. Of course, it was Jesus who healed a blind man on his journey to Jerusalem through Jericho (Luke 18:35-43), but because he did not fit their image of what the Messiah was to be, they did not receive him.
Jericho is also on the route that Joshua took when he entered the Promised Land. No walls from the ancient city of Jericho were ever found Fr. Kamal told us. It is also where Zacchaeus, the tax collector, climbed the sycamore tree to be able to see and hear Jesus. When Christ called him down from the tree and went to his house, he was telling the people that salvation was for all people, not just one group of chosen people. Jesus was inviting us to think about God’s Kingdom, and not a specific piece of land, or even A Promised Land. God’s Kingdom does away with this kind of thinking. We did see a sycamore tree but not THAT one.
We had lunch in an outdoor veranda in Jericho, then continued toward Jerusalem.
On the way, we drove through the Wilderness, the beautiful hills and valleys. It included a stop at Wadi Qelt to gaze at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, a sixth-century cliff-hanging complex of gardens and chapel. To get to our viewing spot high above the monastery, we had to walk a short distance along the edge of a cliff. There were no incidents.
We drove on into the village of Bethany in the West Bank, where Palestinians are prevented from entering Jerusalem because of the Separation Wall. It was in Bethany that Jesus visited Martha and Mary, and raised their brother, Lazarus, from the dead (John 11). We entered the Lazarus Church and saw the empty tomb that historians, archeologists, and church theologians agree was THE tomb of Lazarus.
We haven’t experienced any direct evidence of the tension between Israelis and Palestinians, but physical barriers and military checkpoints are present in many places. Also present at every stop are merchants trying to sell their goods of postcards, scarves, jewelry and handbags. We were back at the Golden Walls Hotel in Jerusalem by 5:30 p.m.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6