Monday, November 17, 2008

The Feelings of a Frontier Village

I am reading Frederic Farrar's Life of Christ (written in 1870), and reflecting on what I have seen in my recent trip through Israel. One particular village has provoked thought.

We drove by a town in the Palestinian territories that has became a centre of the bomb attacks against Israelis some years ago, leading to the erection of the security wall that now blocks off easy access among the peoples. This same town is mentioned by Farrar as the frontier village of the Samaritans in Jesus' day - the village that refused to welcome Jesus, as St Luke records (Lk. 9:51-56). Why did they refuse Jesus on this journey? Previously he had been welcomed in Samaritan areas. Perhaps it was because of his destination - he was heading to Jerusalem, and was attended now by a crowd of followers. This village (En-gannim in ancient days) was the first Samaritan town on the border with Galilee. Their refusal to welcome Jesus led to his decision to avoid moving through Samaria; he struck east through Perea.

Farrar comments about this same village in his experience circa 1980: "The inhabitants of the village - who to this day are not remarkable for their civility to strangers. . . ". They had a reputation, he was told, of being "fanatical, rude and rebellious." It is interesting to learn that a particular village, in three widely different periods of history and with different cultures and religions, can show such similarity of attitude.

I am sure that there are real grievances behind local animosities and that these comments are generalisations untrue of many people. And of course, I have no personal knowledge in this matter. It is still worth pondering whether local cultural attitudes in districts have an abiding spiritual and moral fixity. What is going on spiritually in areas like these, to produce such a profile?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An Most Significant Intersection

This trip to Israel and Jordan has impressed me with the historical significance for Israel of the Jordan river crossing near Jericho. So many crucial Biblical events happened there - the Israelites entering the promised land, the departure of Elijah to heaven, the ministry of John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus. Today I stood on Mt Nebo and looked down on that very spot as Moses did, before his death and the entry of the tribes into Canaan.

In a sense that is where Israelite history began as a nation, and where eternal events that reconstituted the people of God happened. There, in between the sea that gives life (Galilee) and the sea that is dead (The Dead Sea), the power of God was displayed to save and inaugurate his people.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Where God Dwells

Last night we went down the tunnels along the Western Wall of Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It was moving to see the people above - and some below - who believe that this is the place where God's presence is to be encountered. What a revolution Jesus came to bring - to be the Temple himself, the replacement for places through a relationship with God through himself.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Location, Location

Another surprise for me in Israel. The Qumran community site is not as far away from the beaten track as I had thought. It is quite close to the Jerusalem road junction and near the Dead Sea, so it must have had some passing traffic. For a group that wanted to get away from the Temple and the city, they would have still been visible and in touch with the life of the nation of Israel in their day.

What good is a protest if nobody knows you are making a stand?