Faith Works 3-28-15
Why go to Jerusalem?
Every spring, each new year's journey towards Palm Sunday and all that was to follow, I find the earlier mornings and drawn-out evenings to invite reflection. On the direction and arc of my own life, but more and more the season takes me closer and closer to the footsteps of Jesus.
It's a cliché, I know, in Israel no less than during Holy Week anywhere else, to speak of "walking where Jesus walks." And we can't, whether by reach of time or elevation of divinity, walk in Jesus' footsteps. We can't even really walk in another person's moccasins, or sandals, or hiking boots. We walk each of us in our own, just as Heraclitus back half-a-millennium before Pilate's era said to the Greco-Roman world that we cannot step in the same river twice.
Yet we take on models, examples, exemplars to tell us how to travel: Jesus spoke himself of David the king, Isaiah's suffering servant, Jonah "saved" by the giant beast of the sea. He did not walk alone, he knew the path had been travelled before.
So in a new way we set foot on a very well worn trail. Over rocks, through passages, past doorways once barred and now open. Someone has been this way, and we can tell by the traces something of that earlier traveler.
Early on, before the formal and liturgical events of the Easter season, there's that moment in Mark and Luke's accounts in particular, when Jesus "sets his face like flint" toward Jerusalem. He's well-received and much loved in the Galilee, and even for some distance around (Syro-Phoenicia, the Decapolis, even beyond the Jordan). His knowledge of the terrain is intimate and immediate, there are friends and supporters close at hand, and the primary critics and skeptics are ones trucked in from the urbane and occupied national capital.
Which raises, for me, the question "why go there?" Right, right, prophets must die in Jerusalem (Luke 13:34). Or do they? I checked. Well, Isaiah, Amos, and Habakkuk may have been killed there. That's a big trio. Lots of other prophets died in old age and peace, too. Why did Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, feel like he had to go straight into the belly of the beast?
Now, if you're jumping ahead to claims of the cosmic significance of who and what Jesus' life and death and resurrection all meant, and the absolute salvation-history necessity of Jesus going to the Holy City to mark the Passover, I hear you. That's what all the songs and anthems and cantatas, and even a bunch of praise music, is reminding us every year.
But I'm still back on that hillside at the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee, sitting on a jutting piece of limestone among the long dried grasses of early spring, rustling in the breezes lifting off the surface of the water just below. The heights to your left, over into Syria, are fading into murk, the setting sun leaves the hills behind Tiberias before you in shadow, shafts of light breaking through the valley of Migdal just on your right hand.
Capernaum is down the slope and a short walk to the west, dinner (fish again) and sleep. Tomorrow, looking out across the long axis of the body of water before you, a long day's walk by shore or a fairly simple sail by boat, and you can be fifteen miles away: there where the Jordan River steadily trickles out of the lake and on down a steadily declining valley, three days' walk and more to Jericho.
Then that last ten mile pull, all uphill again, to Jerusalem.
Why go? "Let the dead bury their own dead," he'd already said.
The Sanhedrin and the Roman legions can glare at one another across the Cheesemaker's Valley, and the smoke of the smoldering trash dumps in the Hinnom bring tears to their eyes. The Temple, a beautiful piece of architecture, built by a monster who wanted you dead even as you were born, now occupied by people who wanted you dead without knowing who you were.
Let Jerusalem go. Stay here, stay home, stay safe, preach where you know the lay of the land.
Or fulfill a calling that drew you forward, even beyond common sense and pure reason.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your experiences on the road to Jerusalem at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.