This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Walking In Jesus' Footsteps.



            Christian pilgrims have come to the Holy Land for centuries, hoping to gain some spiritual benefit from walking in Jesus’ footsteps.  I am learning that it is a very powerful experience to see the places where the Lord lived, taught, healed, preached, died, and was resurrected.  In spite of the weight of history and all its convulsive changes, and in spite of the radically different context of Jerusalem today, it is still possible to feel in the landscape and the people a deeper understanding of Jesus’ context and world.
            Trusting in Jesus, however, is not just an exercise in memory.  Sometimes the subsequent layers of history can separate us not just from Jesus, but from our own present.  We meet Jesus Christ here and now, or we do not meet him at all.  So the idea of walking in Jesus’ footsteps has to be more than following the Via Dolorosa, or looking at this or that rock upon which he might have stepped.  We have also to walk today where, and with whom, he walked back then.  This means finding the places and people among whom Jesus’ presence is manifest today.  As he associated with the poor, the outcasts, the sick, the oppressed, the hungry, and the sinners in his own time, so he calls those of us who follow him to identify with the same kinds of people today.
            We miss the point if we walk in his historical footsteps by visiting these holy sites, while at the same time ignoring (or worse) the people we meet today who represent those with and for whom he conducted his ministry.  Reverence for the past is counterproductive if it prevents or distracts us from continuing his mission today.
            In these days, visiting Palestine, I am finding that I am meeting the Lord in the holy places.  Praying at the synagogue in Nazareth, or on the hillside near the Church of the Beatitudes was a deep spiritual experience.  I felt the holy Presence praying with Jewish sisters and brothers today at the Western Wall.
           I am finding as well that I am meeting Christ at least as profoundly in some of the people I am meeting.  Mostly I am recognizing him in the suffering, the dignity, the hope, and the patience of the indigenous people of this land, the Palestinians.  Talking with individuals who have endured such abuse and constant pressure from an oppressive, conquering, extractive regime, gives me much hope. 
            We all know that Jesus was a Jew; what doesn’t necessarily occur to us is that he was also a Palestinian.  I am discovering the face of Christ here in his own people.  Like the villagers whose town was destroyed by the Israeli army decades ago, yet whose descendants keep a daily vigil in the village church, which has somehow survived.  Or the young man whose brother’s 16 year-old best friend was shot by soldiers.  Or the Bedouins we met today whose simple homes are routinely demolished, and who have been forcibly relocated from their traditional land in the Negev desert.  Or the dozens of men I have met who have done repeated terms of jail time, even including torture. Or the people for whom merely driving to the next town can be a major hassle, if it is allowed at all.  Or the farmer who is always in danger of having his ancestral land confiscated, and who must suffer constant threats from foreign squatters.  (“How long has your family farmed this land?” I asked him.  “Eight-hundred years,” he replied.)
            Jesus knew what it was like to live in a conquered land, where the basic human rights of the people were not respected.  He gives wise and direct counsel for how to deal with abuse from soldiers of the occupation.  He teaches that he is present among those who suffer.  He blesses the poor, the grieving, and the gentle.  He heals the sick, frees people from bondage, welcomes the outcast, and feeds a hungry crowd on a hillside.
            I have repeated often that all Jesus appears to be concerned with is the mere fact of a person’s suffering.  He never asks whose fault it is, or tests people on their theology or moral character.  He never refuses to heal anyone who comes to him.  He heals for soldiers, police officers, Gentiles, Pharisees, rich and poor, friends and enemies.  He only cares about alleviating suffering wherever he finds it.  Certainly today, and here, Jesus is with anyone who suffers – Israeli, Palestinian, Christian, Muslim, Jew, native, settler, or visitor/tourist/pilgrim. 
            When God heals this land, it will be by way of Jesus’ good news of God’s love for the whole world, on the basis of the justice, equality, and peace for all, which is the heart of his message and that of the Bible.  In the meantime, I offer my own energy on behalf of those whom I see bearing the brunt of the world’s violence. 
            I heard today that some newly planted olive trees, near the ones we planted on Monday, were uprooted by settlers who are trying to push out the indigenous farmers.  It doesn’t matter to us.  Tomorrow, as an expression of hope for this land, we will go out and plant more olive trees... walking in Jesus' footsteps.
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