If you were to ask any of the interns or I (Jared) about the purpose of the trip you would have gotten a variety of answers on the same theme. Our goal was to learn more about the Bible and the God it describes by coming to the land where so many of those stories took place. That has certainly happened, with a shout our to Mt. Arbel and Capernum as being particularly impactful sites for me. Today we visited the Temple Mount and Bethlehem and in doing so I got a really interesting look into the modern cultural landscape in addition to the Biblical background.
This morning we woke up early (which is no easy feat after a week of travel) in order to get to the Temple Mount before the line to get in was too long. The Temple Mount is the historical site of both Solomon's and Herod's temples as well as the spot where Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22). This is the same spot where Jesus would have turned over the tables of the moneychangers, which arguably was the action that forced the religious leaders to go through with plans for his crucifixion.
Currently the Temple Mount is under Palestinian control, with a mosque and a monument called the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. This area was much larger than I expected with plenty of open space and gardens. The old temple build by Herod would have been huge!
Anyway, the most impactful part of the Temple Mount for me was the Western Wall. This is not technically part of the Temple Mount, but at the base of the 62 foot tall wall that surrounds the Temple Mount. Herod built the wall so tall not just because he was paranoid (and believe me he was paranoid) but because he wanted to flatten the mountain to have more building space. So the reason the wall is so tall and the Mount is so big is because he built the wall to then fill in with dirt, making it flat and raising it above the city.
The importance of the Western Wall is that it is the closest a Jew can go (they aren't allowed on Temple Mount) to the former location of the Holy of Holies (a specific part of the old temple). So at the Western Wall there are always people there to pray and worship, doing all that they can to be close to God. As a Christian who has God dwelling within me and who is considered "a temple for the Holy Spirit" this was a potent image. How often do I do all I can just to be close to God? More often it seems I get comfortable with God and forget just how much I should treasure that I can approach God ANYWHERE!
Here we meet our friend Herod again. That dude was not nice, but he sure had a huge impact on the world Jesus lived in. Right outside Bethlehem we visited the Herodium, which was a palace he built for himself. Let me rephrase that, he built the largest palace complex in the Roman Empire and if that wasn't enough he placed it on a mountain that he BUILT.
It was amazing to be in these magnificent ruins overlooking the town of Bethlehem. It was the contrast that really struck me. The pride of Herod, building elaborate homes for himself neglecting the cost. While Jesus was born in a humble shepherd's town. The question our guide asked was, "Which way is better pride or humility?" The answer he said is that nobody is flying across the world to see Herod.
I alluded in the beginning to getting a look into the cultural landscape of modern Israel. Today was the first time I really got a taste of some of the tension that is just a way of life for the people that live here. Now, don't worry nothing dramatic or even remotely dangerous happened, we had our tour guide Ronen and driver Yudah to take care of us the whole way. For the record, those two deserve many blogs worth of praises for how well they have taken care of us.
I am not quite sure what to do with the tension I felt today, all I know is that it made me take notice. It made me more aware of the political situation here and more compassionate for the people that deal with the ramifications. So since I don't know what to do, I am going to do what I normally do when I am unsure of a situation, pray. I hope you will join me in praying for the people of this land, both Palestinian and Israeli.
Thanks for following on our journey