We’ve spent two FULL days in the holy city of Jerusalem, under the expert guidance of Dr. Monte Luker, Professor of Hebrew Bible at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, in Columbia, SC. (The two other professors along provide occasional commentary.)
We have spent time on Temple Mount (where the temple was during Jesus’ time; where the Dome of the Rock is now), at the Western (“Wailing”) Wall, on the original temple “teaching steps” where Jesus did his teaching when in Jerusalem, at the Augusta Victoria Hospital (run by the Lutheran World Federation, which Chris Punchard prays for often on Sunday mornings), on the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, and at the sites of the crucifixion and the tomb. Some of those sites are “10s” — meaning that we can be sure Jesus was right there. For instance, one of the group members took a picture of me standing in the Pool of Siloam (John 9)! Other sites are at least CLOSE to where Jesus was! It’s all holy ground.
I am impressed by how compressed is the geography; in other words: how close everything is. The Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the temple, Pilate’s headquarters, Herod’s palace, Golgotha, the tomb — they are all in sight of each other! I had no idea.
I’ve been reading the gospel stories yet again, now that I have walked the geography. That really helps the stories come alive!
I’m surprised how quickly I’ve come to take machine guns for granted. Even the security guard in front of our hotel carries impressive fire power. I am struck by how often I see a gorgeous young woman, with flowing hair — in an army uniform, with a machine gun on her shoulder. (As one of our group members put it, “They carry machine guns like they’re purses.”) I told a small group how I was struck by all these gorgeous young women carrying machine guns, and Leslie Scanlon (a 2008 graduate of William and Mary who’s now a second-year student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia) said, “The guys carrying machine guns are pretty gorgeous too!”
It’s all understandable, I guess, considering that everyone in the surrounding countries would like to see Israel obliterated.
The Augusta Victoria hospital is the main medical care facility in the whole country for Palestinians. (There are many hospitals available for Jews.) Since the “separation barrier” is now going up, 85% of the hospital’s staff and patients must pass through check points to get to work/receive medical care. And the check points are very unpredictable. Sometimes it takes no time at all;
sometimes it takes hours. So, for instance, imagine a surgery scheduled for 8:00 AM. Will the doctors, the nurses, the therapists, even the guy who’s responsible for the emergency power generator all be in place in time? It’s a great hardship for the Palestinians. On the other hand, there are now no suicide bombings in Jerusalem. I am convinced that I will return home knowing much more about the whole conflict, and feeling much more confused. What a complex problem. (Of course, all the Christians in Israel are Palestian.)
We’ll have more experience, up-close with the “separation barrier” tomorrow, because we’ll all have to be approved at a check point, to get to Bethlehem. We’ll all have to have our passports and be approved, to get to the (now Palestinian) town where Jesus was born.
I’m deeply impressed with how many religious people are identifiable by their practice, their facial hair, their dress, how they cover their hair or heads. At home, if we saw a single person that identifiable, we would stop and stare!
Today, when we visited the Garden of Gethsemane, one of the seminarians read the gospel story of Jesus in the garden, and while she was doing that, the Muslim call to prayer sounded across the city. There is so much different religious practice occuring at the same time, each day. I’m having to process all of this!
Keep up with my itinerary, please, and continue to journey with me in prayer. We’ll be moving on to our next stop the day after tomorrow. I’ll post another blog in a few days, if there is Internet access!