For many Christian visitors to the Holy Land, it is not how they imagine it to be, nor how they picture it from Bible times.
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.
The present day Holy Land can stir up reactions of confusion, dismay, and even anger.
Underlying intolerance between the different political and religious groups is palatable in Jerusalem, and regularly erupts into international news.
These modern day tensions do not seem to fit with how we want to think of Jesus’ life and ministry. Soldiers and guns are at odds with Jesus’ message of peace. Violence and hate are the opposite of 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 burdened the people with oppressive taxes. Soldiers were a common sight and involved in the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. On festival days, as crowds converged on the temple mount, extra resources would have been brought in to break up any unrest that threatened to take place.
King Herod crushed any chance to usurp his rule. He ordered the killing of the baby boys in Bethlehem to remove “The King of the Jews.” His paranoia led him to build fortresses, as at Masada, to which he could run.
The Jewish people despised Roman subjection. They hoped for a Messiah to lead them and free them of Roman command. They wanted Jesus to be king.
The land in Jesus’ day is not unlike the environment we discover in Jerusalem today.
So how should we act and not react when we feel threatened in whatever circumstances we face? We need to look at Jesus’ teaching for pointers and learn from him.
- We are to offer healing and restoration. Our reaction may be to fight back when faced with opposition, 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. He healed the man’s ear modeling his own teaching of love your enemies.
- We can face the difficulties with courage. Peter became fearful and denied his Lord when tensions reached a climax at Jesus’ trial. Yet, Jesus asks us to follow in his footsteps and keep our eyes on him.
- We are to break down barriers, not build them up. We can be intolerant and exclude those who are different, as Peter would have reacted to Cornelius, the Roman centurion. But, God sent Jesus so that everyone who believes in him can be saved. As Peter declared: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
How will you act or react today?