Monday, February 11, 2013

Holy Land

Jesus descended into the pit

Israelis wear skinny jeans, separation barriers between countries are heart-rending, and it’s ok to go to a bar in Palestine. These were a few of my surprises during my trip to the ‘Holy Land.’ Of course, there were larger and more significant spiritual surprises, too.  Pastors often hear the phrase “the Bible comes alive in the Holy Land ” but I didn’t completely buy it because I succumb to pride. I changed my mind when we were immersed into the cave where Jesus likely spent the night before he died. We read Psalm 88, “I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. I am counted among those who go down into the pit.”  I realized that I had never really read Psalm 88. 
Time-space is important to God because God chooses particularity. And if God did not choose a specific time, land, or people then we would not really know God.  It’s all about revelation. That’s how our God works. Yet, too often we forget that God did not choose to become incarnate in the United States of America.  Jesus wasn’t born in South Georgia (like me).  The Word became flesh, Jewish flesh, and pitched his tent Nazareth, Capernaum and Jerusalem.  It was a blessing to see the particularities of where God chose to reveal Godself—the people, architecture, and geographical distinctions will deeply affect the way you read Scripture.   

Some insights are fairly insignificant, but still interesting—David was able to easily spot Bathsheba (and likely, many other women) bathing on the rooftop, Jesus probably got really tired walking up all the mountains in Galilee, and there really are palm trees all over the place. Other insights are more profound.  A city on a hill is beautiful and can be spotted from miles away, Jesus went way out of his way when he travelled to Samaria to minister to those on the fringes, and one really can move mountains (after all, that’s what Herod did with the Herodion).
Seeking refuge from the rain

Bishop Goodpaster reminded us of the contrast between the magnificent Herodion and the humility of Shepherd’s field (Jesus’ birthplace).  On our first day in the Holy Land we walked through the remains of King Herod’s fortress, the Herodion, a fortress fit for a king. Shortly after, we drove a few miles down to The Church of the Nativity and Shepherd’s field.  It began to rain hard and we sought refuge in a cave like the stable in which Jesus was born. Don’t miss the paradox: our king takes refuge in a cave, while the worldly king reigns on top of a mountain.  That’s what our God chose. 

Along the way I gained a greater appreciation of our Jewish roots.  We need the help of Israeli and Palestinian Christians lest we continue to create Jesus in our own image. Or, is this just me?  I am prone to create God in my own image and force Scripture into my established cultural biases. Just ask my wife how many times I said, “That’s not how I pictured it.” Our tour guide, Deeb, took us to the Mt. of Beatitudes and read us ‘The Sermon on the Mount.’  This native of Jerusalem then told us that the kernel of Christianity is, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” It was the closest Deeb came to preaching.  Jesus’ words continue to be the greatest challenge for that small piece of land in the Middle East.

 I am a little less likely to plop Jesus down in Western North Carolina.  My white, North American lenses have become a little bit thinner and Jesus no longer looks as Aryan as he did before. And this is really significant. I think of the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman—you know, the ‘half-Jew’ who was despised by the Jewish people.  Jesus says rather bluntly, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is of the Jews.”

I’m glad that I’m continuing to learn that I, too, really don’t know.

The wall separating Israel and Palestine

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