The last experience offered to our group in Israel was to walk the stations of the cross followed by a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, a mass at Our Lady of the Arc of the Covenant Church near Emmaus. I found both walking the stations and the mass very meaningful, but thinking about it now, I realize that my spiritual experience was not what most pilgrims might have. There were many times during the trip when I felt just slightly disappointed and I could not quite figure out what this meant until now. Now I realize that it had to do with my intention in going to Israel in the first place.
Most Christians, I imagine, go to Israel thinking: “If I walk the places Jesus walked perhaps I will in some way know more deeply what it is like to walk with the Christ loving me, guiding me, healing and forgiving me, and in the end saving me.” I went to Israel because I wanted to know is what Jesus the man saw and experienced during his thirty plus years living in the land. This is why I felt frustration skimming over the fauna and the overloooking of the birds and ground critters. I sensed that Jesus would have noticed these; they were, after all, the basis of his parables. He saw the spiritual significance in all things.
…Even people. Rather than consider what a disciple’s experience of Jesus might have been, I was consumed by the idea of Jesus’ experience of the disciples. What was his attitude toward his followers? Love and concern? Frustration? Boredom? What of the other people he encountered? I remember walking up the stone steps of the Old City, our group carrying the cross and stopping to read prayers at each station. I was thinking of the many times Jesus had walked up those steps and stopped to chat with the merchants along the way or to help a man who found it painful to step up because of his arthritic knees. Even as he walked to his death, I thought about the gratitude he must have felt when a man lifted his load for a while or a woman wiped his brow. I thought about the sympathy he had for the women who stopped because he understood the suffering of wives and mothers when their families suffer.
I tended throughout my two weeks in Israel not to see Jesus in a new way but to see the holy land the way he saw it. For this, I did not come away disappointed. Even now, when I read the accounts in the bible, I see things and places differently. Tabor is no longer a mountain peak where one is close to the sky to reach out in prayer, but rather a darned good place to set up camp and talk with friends under the stars. Nazareth is a town where you can walk the winding streets and expect to meet people you know by name around every corner. The boat landing in Capernaum I could easily imagine full of fishermen mending their nets and drying them in the summer sun and Jesus sitting with them getting all fish smelly. Now that I have seen the upper room, I imagine Jesus wanting to spend that last night with his disciples, yes, but also with other friends and family members – all those he dreaded leaving behind.
Does this all make a difference to me today? That is still unfolding. I think that I might consider looking out at the world around me today the way Jesus looked out at his world back then. I can look at the birds and the trees to find what message they have to teach me about life. I can see the pain in others and allow compassion and concern to flow from me to them. I can stop and enjoy the moments with friends and family, laughing and sharing stories under the stars. I guess you might say, I didn’t come home seeing Jesus differently but seeing the world differently.
‘Tis a very holy thing.