In many ways my trip to the Holy Land was the simplest of the three pilgrimages I’ve been on: 2002, Celtic Northumbria and Scotland, 2007, Into the West of Ireland, and 2015, Holy Land. The means were straightforward: sign up for a package tour with Bishops Beisner and Rickel. We gathered by the door of Tel Aviv airport where we met our guides and driver. It was a very Christian trip – Episcopalian/Anglican, even liberal non-Evangelical Anglican, to be more specific. There were ecumenical and interfaith encounters certainly. And what we see encompassed all three Abrahamic faiths as well as prehistoric ruins. We largely bypassed what was not on our focus; which was: (1) footsteps of Jesus, (2) current Palestinian predicament, and (3) riding in a bus together.
Of these the first is the reason I went. We began where we could begin.
Mount Tabor, transfiguration
Tabgha, multiplication; Nazareth, annunciation; Capernaum, Magdala: Galilee
Jordan River, baptism
Settlements, a Palestinian hill town
At Capernaum I got a sense from the ruins of the synagogue (post 1st Century C.E.) that lie on top of the building Jesus would have known, that it was not a very big place: 300m along the lakeshore – of course that lakeshore, along which Jesus came to call his first disciples…
And so from a building not much bigger than a small church (St. Andrew’s Tucson, e.g.) Jesus and his friends crossed the street to a small house where he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. And the whole town crowded round the door that evening, hoping for more healing – which they got. But in the morning he gathered his team and moved on, announcing in word and deed that the reign of God was beginning. And they moved about that region so the news spread.
Eventually it was time to go up to Jerusalem so they took the Jericho road. And on the way he healed beggars and warned them, and all who would follow him, that it was necessary for him to go – and take his message and its consequences all the way.
This meant appearing at the center of Jewish religion at the tensest, busiest time as all converged on the Temple – where the great feast would be inaugurated. But he would not live to see it – if John’s timing is right.
From the triumphal entry on a colt, a political drama enacting the arrival of God’s anointed – in pointed opposition to Herod and Rome – to his teaching in the Temple, he continues his mission, announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom: now not in a small synagogue but on a big open plaza with the Temple machinery plonk in the middle of it, the possibility of thousands gathering who could hear and see him – and then he does this! [The Cleansing of the Temple] – which may have set the match to the tinder. He drives out the cattle and overthrows the business dealings because that is what the Messiah does when he arrives. So they plot to kill him – or have him removed, as an administrative inconvenience.
Grabbed in the dark outside of town at his encampment among olive trees, he is dragged – lets himself be dragged – to the house of Caiaphas then across town to stand before Pilate. On the common pavement the soldiers mock him, play games with him on their traditional game board (see where they kept score) and load the crosspiece on his back of the engine of his own execution. They march him through the marketplace, indifferent or gawking people brushing past him and they go take him outside the walls, up a little precipice, pound in the upright, and kill him. Rome is done with him – except for the laughter, the relieved chatter, the embarrassed or amused spectator. His body can rot there for all they care – or be case on a dung heap. Rome has no tears to shed.
But a pious Jew (like Tobit) takes the body and gives it proper burial, in a new tomb. It would stay there until the flesh is consumed and the bones collected and put in an ossuary (see examples in Israel Museum including Caiaphas’ and a Jesus son of Joseph) if all went as expected.
Just why did Jesus go up to Jerusalem? What did he hope to accomplish?
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
Did he achieve his purpose? After all?
You can go there – to a place archaeologists say is “very probably” the tomb, and lay your head on the stone – the marble slab where the body lay. Eyes closed. All is dark. Time stops. Then breath returns.
Is the world the same? Or different?