What was the best part of your trip? This is the question people ask me when I tell them I have just returned from Israel. Even now, two weeks later, I am still speechless. How do I pick from the view of the Sea of Galilee on a sunny morning as I finish the climb at Mt. Arbel? Or should I choose standing in the Sea of Galilee in the place where Jesus called Peter back to discipleship? It must have been standing in the Jordan River thinking of how significant these waters were for Joshua, Elisha, and John. Or maybe it was the mikveh at Ein Gedi, climbing Qumran and Masada, or walking the Jericho Road? And then there was Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. And the people.
I’ll offer these two experiences for your consideration.
Caesarea Maritime – I didn’t really know much about Caesarea Maritime. I learned that Herod developed this city and built the harbor. This was a Hellenistic city, so Herod didn’t bother with a synagogue, but instead built a theatre, palace, hippodrome, and a large temple to Augustus (because he knew where his bread was buttered).
As we read Acts 10, 12, 21, 25 and 26, I realized the story of Caesarea Maritime was not what Herod or Rome intended it to be. Caesarea Maritime was the port to Israel – an entry point for Empire to overcome Kingdom. It was here that Herod shifted the center of government from Jerusalem. It was here that Roman legions prepared for occupation (and eventually the destruction of the Temple).
But Caesarea Maritime was also the pivot point where Kingdom overcame Empire. It was here a Roman centurion and his household was baptized. It was here Paul appealed to Caesar taking his fate out of Agrippa’s hands. And in this way, what was built to be a tribute to Empire and provide entry to overcome Kingdom becomes a launching point for God’s Kingdom to take over the Empire.
What does this mean for me? Empire is an out-dated term today – we usually use the “world” or “culture.” Sometimes these are backed by government and military as well. Regardless, the same struggle still exists. The challenge seems to be whether the pivot point where Kingdom and Culture collide will result in the deterioration of the Church or our entry to reach those outside the Church.
Living Stones – We spent an afternoon with David and Rivka, an orthodox rabbi and his wife in the settlement of Efrata and Atallah, a third-generation resident of Deheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. They live within miles of each other, but it’s worlds apart. Sure of home, Rivka emigrated to Israel. She was an American and a Jewish convert but came to Israel freely. Attalah owned (owns) land here and lost his home – and cannot move freely in Israel or even just a few miles into Jerusalem.
Rivka and David have hope on not just a secular nation but re-embracing Judaism. Between them, they have 10 children (both are in their second marriage, one of Rivka’s sons was killed by a Palestinian). I heard no concerns about the future of their children. Education is obviously valued because David is a teacher and Rivka mentioned that class she had taken the night before on the Psalm 107. When the 50-year lease is up on the land they live on, they have no concern about its renewal (they joyfully referred to the Jubilee).
Atallah, however, says with great emotion, “What about my son?” He does not have hope of getting his land back. He has not visited it. He cannot live with his family in the bet ‘ab because the foundations cannot support another story. He has moved out of the refugee camp and rented an apartment with his wife and son.
Where is true hope found? Atallah said he is about “20% Muslim” so not very devout. You could argue that hope is only found in your faith – but I didn’t necessarily see that as the basis for David and Rivka’s confidence. They have hope because of power. Living in a settlement may be dangerous – but it is their choice. The danger Atallah lives with has been forced upon him.
Rivka called herself a “first generation” emigrant to Israel “but someone has to be the first generation.” She is looking at building something. Atallah is a third generation refugee in his own land. He hopes that either he or his son will be the first generation back on their family land.
Rivka and David spoke of their desire for justice and to live righteously, but they also see their life in the settlement as normal. All Palestinians (and Lebanese, as David fought in this war) are lumped together as Muslims and dangerous. They don’t seem to see the humanity of their Palestinian neighbors as a reason to actively seek dialogue – or maybe they do but didn’t mention it to us. They haven’t transferred the common humanity of their Palestinian friend and former neighbor to all Palestinians.
The hopes of David, Rivka and Atallah are really the same – until you get to the Jewish state.
What does this mean for me? Is justice something you do or is the way you are? If justice doesn’t define your relationships – especially with your enemies – than can true justice ever result? It would be easy to judge David and Rivka for being so blind to what is right before them; to what is more than just theory but is flesh and blood just a few miles away. But then I have to ask myself, what elements of truth and justice in Scripture do I proclaim but fail to translate into my daily life? Who do I fail to see as my neighbor, a fellow human being created in the image of God? What is the log in my eye?
“I love the Word, and I love to make it come alive for people. I love to help them find themselves in the story. I love to help them hear God’s Word to them – maybe even the answer to the question they didn’t even know they had. I can study about history, archeology, culture, etc., but I would like the opportunity to add to it the smell, feel, sound, taste and spatial experience by actually being there. I believe that this opportunity would bring God’s Word to life in new ways for me so that I may bring it to others.”
I didn’t realize how true these words when I wrote them last year. I am so thankful to McCormick for the opportunity to travel and study in Israel through the John Hayes Creighton Fund for Graduate Study in the Holy Land and the Robert and Jean Boling Memorial Fund for International Travel and Study. I would be happy to speak further about my experiences.