Monday, February 27, 2012
It’s a small place. The Jordan doesn’t quite qualify as a “river”; “winding creek” might be more descriptive. Capernaum is a tee-tiny place; Jesus left the synagogue and went home (Mark 2), and I counted no more than 20 of my own steps to get from synagogue to the house archaeologists discovered. Nazareth is a bit of a boomtown now, but in Jesus’ day the population might have been 40 or 100. Galilee is merely a small lake. You can drive the length and breadth of the country in no time flat. Mount Tabor is a little hill by our standards.
Everything that happened in the Bible is marked by a church or a tacky memorial. You can see Lot’s wife, or Adam’s grave, or the inn of the Good Samaritan. There aren’t one or two but actually three places that claim to be the real Emmaus. Even archaeologists “find” bogus things – like the much ballyhooed burial box of James the brother of Jesus, which proved to be a not-so-clever forgery.
Yes, part of the ugliness of the most sacred nation, and the most holy places in that nation, is that turf wars threaten to spoil it all. Because of Jerusalem, the world can’t seem to be at peace; the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre will probably cave in before the Catholics, Copts, Greeks and Armenians can agree on repairing it. But even this elicits my affection: I like it when a place or an idea is contested, even fiercely. Something matters – in a world where nothing much seems to matter, unless you count what movie stars wore to the Oscars or who’s still standing in a reality show.
For you see, a pilgrimage to the Holy Land symbolizes what life is really all about, and also our final destination. “I am bound for the promised land” was a hymn my grandparents sang; they never got out of the Carolinas much, and never were afforded the nearly elitist privilege of travelling all the way to Jerusalem. But they knew the Jesus who stood on the stones, and vested their lives and fortunes in the journey to God’s new Jerusalem.