The piercing call to prayer from the minarets scattered around Jerusalem, prompting the city’s Muslim inhabitants of their duty to pray, can be a surprise to the first-time Christian pilgrim.
The sound is a reminder Jerusalem is holy not only for Christians but for followers of Islam, too.
The Dome of the Rock stands on the place where it is believed Mohammed ascended into heaven, which happens to be the foundations of the Jewish temple. This site has great significance for Jewish people, too. Jewish tradition teaches the Temple Mount is the focal point of creation. Many Jews come to the Western Wall, the only accessible remnant of the western Temple Mount retaining walls, to pray.
Others want to be buried on the Mount of Olives where the resurrection will begin when the Messiah comes.
For many Christian visitors to the Holy Land, this is not how we imagine it to be, nor how we picture it from Bible times. The present day Holy Land can stir up strong reactions of dismay, shock, and even anger.
Underlying intolerance between the different religious groups is palatable in Jerusalem, and often erupts into international news. Although, to calm your fears, on my recent visit we did not experience any trouble in Jerusalem or on our travels around Israel.
These modern day tensions do not seem to fit with Jesus’ life and ministry. Soldiers and guns are at odds with Jesus’ message of peace. Road blocks oppose Jesus’ teaching on love and reconciliation.
Yet, Jesus was born into and lived in troubled times. Palestine during Jesus life was not an idyllic environment.
The Romans occupied the land and oppressed the people. Soldiers were present at the temple when Jesus and the people came to worship. On festival days, as crowds converged on the temple mount, extra resources would be brought in to break up any unrest that threatened to take place.
King Herod crushed any chance to usurp his rule. He killed baby boys, and built fortresses as well as palaces.
The Jewish people despised Roman subjection. Even Jesus’ disciples hoped for a Messiah to lead them and free them of Roman command. Their thoughts were often fighting.
And, the Romans worshipped foreign gods, not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The land in Jesus’ day is not unlike the environment you discover in Jerusalem today.
So how should we as Christians act and not react? We need to look at Jesus’ teaching for pointers and learn from him.
- We can lash out in fear, as Peter did when Jesus was arrested. He drew his sword and cut off the ear of a servant. Or we can offer healing and restoration, as was Jesus’ response to the situation.
Jesus teaches us to have love for one another and for the other.
- We can ignore the reality, as did Peter who denied his Lord when tensions reached a climax at Jesus’ trial. Or, we can face the difficulties with courage.
Jesus teaches us to not fear and to be strong.
- We can be intolerant and exclude those who are different, as Peter would have reacted to Cornelius, the Roman centurion. Or we can believe God wants all people to be saved.
Jesus teaches us to break down barriers, not build them up.
How will you act or react today?
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