Home from the Holy Land and pondering the vast landscape of all that we encountered. What comes to mind is this: it’s amazing but it’s complicated.
Let me explain. Israel is a paradox. This is exemplified by the city name of Tel Aviv: Tel (Ancient Hill) + A’viv (New Spring). This bustling metropolis is what has come to be known as the “Silicon Wadi” housing over six-thousand startups in only a compact few blocks but built adjacent to the ancient port city of Jaffa/Joppa (remember Jonah and the whale?) It is second in size and population only to the magnificent, heavily patrolled, well armed, eternal city of Jerusalem which ironically means, “City of Peace” (Salem=Shalom).
The Jewish people are comprised of both secular ( some socialists, living in kibbutz farming communities) and the deeply religious, Orthodox of many varieties, (large numbers living within the old city walls of Jerusalem)-- and everything in between. The State of Israel is comprised of Jewish, Palestinian, and Christian Israelis (from varying backgrounds and rights), all having citizenship and living together, and yet separately, in very tight quarters.
The geography encompasses about 8,000 sq. miles (roughly the size and population of New Jersey) and not only does it contain the lowest lying land area on earth, The Dead Sea at 1, 388 feet below sea level, but soars upwards to 7,336 feet on Mt Hermon where a ski resort can be found. Lush farms flourish amidst the barren, dry desert. And camels shepherded by Bedouin nomads walk in single file lines alongside multi laned super highways leading to modern resorts.
Surprisingly there are only about 14.4 million Jews worldwide (6.5 million living in Israel) as compared to 2.3 billion Christians and 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide. And although the total Jewish population comprises less than 0.2% of the world's population, as of 2017, Jewish Nobel laureates were at least 112.5 times or 11,250% above the average for receiving the coveted prize.
The common thread that keeps this beautiful and diverse land and people sutured together is the unifying goal of survival. More than any place that I have visited, the cultural ethos is “excel or die”.
Our Holy Land pilgrimage brilliantly engaged us and made me realize that there are no simple solutions when it comes to the Middle East. Jesus encountered this very same landscape and equally difficult political situations (if not more so). Reading the Gospels makes me see that He was far more interested in repairing the relationship between God and man than He was in politics because He knew then what we know now, it’s complicated and man made solutions are not truly the answer. Bridging the gap between heaven and earth with His own self sacrifice leads to repairing the rift between men. Forgiveness begets forgiveness and love begets love. This was and still is the answer.
All in all on this journey I met the most beautiful, loving, brilliant and kind individuals of varying people groups. I tasted the most delicious food, saw the most spectacular natural and man made beauty, both ancient and new and experienced the reality of what Jesus in His own time would have felt and seen, making the Bible come alive like never before. And for all its complications, The Holy Land is exactly that, Holy= “set apart” for God and His purposes and unlike any other place on earth.
I can’t wait to share it all with you* in my next book, The Gospel of Jesus, and to return again, God willing, very soon.
“I will give his son one tribe, that David my servant may always have a holding before me in Jerusalem, the city I have chosen, to set my name there.” 1 Kings 11:36
Thank You that You don’t shy away from complicated- You embrace it because you love people, in all of our complications. Help us, like You, to engage our culture through acts of sacrificial love. Thank You for making such a beautiful place and people and for dying for all. Only in You and the way in which You taught us to live will we find the answers. Jesus meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like yours.
I ask this in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.