As if it were yesterday…
Hey Friends! At this time of year I often find myself in the middle east—usually in body but always in heart. My wife is fond of calling these places “[my] other life.” The other day I ran across this little piece I wrote awhile back. It captures the grip that the lands of the Bible have held me in for some time. I called it: “As If It Were Yesterday.” And I thought it might interest you as we approach the season of our Savior’s birth.
I remember it today as if it were yesterday. I’d been in Israel little more than a week. And I found myself in Galilee sitting on a hillside that once was a center of regional government during the time of Jesus. Then very little of the city of Sepphoris had been unearthed, so few imagined how significantly this site would change notions about the early life of Jesus and the social landscape of the New Testament. Growing up in Nazareth only 5 miles away, Jesus was surely aware of this highly developed city with a bustling business, intellectual and social life. Perhaps he even worked there as an apprentice craftsman while the city underwent renovation during the days of Herod Antipas. All of this was far from my mind in the autumn of 1973 as I sat perched atop two millennia of dust settled upon the ruins of Jesus’ world. But I did know even then that this land would forever have a profound influence on my life as I had begun to experience a closeness with my Lord and with the biblical people that I had not known before. One Old City shopkeeper puts it well, “You come to the land once; it gets a mortgage on your soul, and you have to return.” And I have been returning now for more than a quarter of a century.
While much has changed in the lands of the Bible since the days of Jesus and the prophets, much hasn’t. You can still see shepherds watching their flocks by night, desert dwellers living the life of Abraham and Sarah, fishermen casting their nets in the Sea of Galilee, valleys of shadows of death, baptismal sites in the Jordan river, and yes, even political tension with neighboring peoples. Time always stands still for me when I walk through the old walled city of Jerusalem and occasionally tread on stones that have survived many changes since the days of Herod. These are stones that perhaps felt the weight of the Master as He walked through the city that made Him weep.
But in the end I’ve discovered that it is more than the stones and the places they support that draw me back so frequently. It’s the people themselves. People who live everyday with a connectedness to the biblical peoples because they are part of the same physical and cultural environment. And this environment which limits access to many of the things we take for granted challenges them daily to live a more authentic life than we often know on this side of the globe. I’ve discovered that more than a third of what is recorded in Scripture of the words of Jesus warned His followers of the traps of living in a predictable, manageable world that can obviate faith. When God mapped out a geography for His kingdom, He chose a strip of land only 150 miles long and 50 miles wide without a significant permanent water source. This is the sort of stuff that makes dependence upon Him a reality and not just the rhetoric of religion. This is what keeps drawing me back: a revitalizing experience of faith in the God who controls every facet of my being. And that is what is always there for me in the land and in its peoples as if it were yesterday.