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"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, con
cerning the word of life -- the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it ...." I John 1:1-2 (RSV)

"After his resurrection the disciples saw the living Christ, whom they knew to have died, with the eyes of faith (oculata fide)." Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 55, 2 ad 1, as quoted in D. M. Stanley, Jesus in Gethsemane (New York, Paulist Press 1980).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pope Benedict Vol 3 Birth Narratives

Ben Witherington has this excellent post  (third in a series) on the Pope's new book.  After having the blessed privilege of praying at the grotto, the place of Jesus's birth, at the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem last week, I found Ben's post a great encouragement.

Going back to my experience of last week in Bethlehem, which I have blogged about,  why would I have found myself praying the words of the angel, "Hail Mary, full of grace," at that holy place?  As you see from the Pope's book and as briefly noted in the Witherington post, the miracle of Jesus' being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary,  and the resurrection of Jesus are God's two most profound interventions into the material world.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Why Am I In Israel?

Why am I in Israel? To get a better understanding of the Bible? On a spiritual pilgrimage which I hope will be pleasing to God? To add a live view of history to my faith? To show support for a country and a people that I love? I could make a long list, and my idea of the best answer might change depending on the experience of each day here.

Being here does make the Bible come alive. Today I was on the Temple Mount, the location of the second Temple which was destroyed by the Romans,  the place where the holy of holies once was, and this is also the location of the first Temple. I realize that precise identification of these locations is a problem, which this website addresses. But as stated here,  "According to Rabbinical sources both the First and Second Temples were built on the same foundations, at the same location somewhere on the Temple Mount."    Why did Solomon build the first Temple here?  It is not enough to say that his father, David, had brought the Tabernacle here.  The picture only  becomes clear when you go back much further to the days of the Patriarchs, and recall that the Temple Mount is on Mount Moriah, the scene of Genesis 22, the holy place of the binding of Isaac.   You are not allowed to "visibly" pray here.  To do that and to venerate this holy place we go down to the Western Wall.

But perhaps the best answer to the opening question comes from an orthodox shop owner named Moshe who spoke to me in the Old City today.  He said, "You come to Israel because God invites you here."


Yesterday in Bethlehem, which is in the West Bank only five miles from Jerusalem, I was able to speak a little Arabic which I had learned in college 35 years ago. I was surprised the way it came back and I was able to show off to our group at the local restaurant which was a wonderful place under a tent.
Bethlehem is all about the Church of the Holy Nativity. I believe that Jesus was born where they built that church. Why?  Mary was alive after Jesus was gone. She would have pointed out this special place to others. The locals would not have forgotten that. I can picture believers venerating the place of birth in the earliest days of the church. When it came time to build a church in the town of Jesus' birth over 300 years later, finding that place of veneration for the building site would not have been difficult.
When I was in the grotto kneeling at the place of the manger all that I could pray were the words of the angel: "Hail Mary, full of grace." It's really true. Jesus was born of a woman, right here.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jerusalem - Mount of Olives

Two friends and I  just got back  at around midnight from a walk over to the edges of the Old City where we wandered near the Citadel of David and over to the Jaffa Gate area, and we even walked down a couple of alleys. A rule in Jerusalem is that you don't go into the Old City at night.  I was glad to get back to the hotel safe,  but I can't say that I was worried.  It was a fascinating late night walk. But that's not important. Today was all about what we saw earlier at the Mount of Olives and on our walk down from there.

In the afternoon we stopped to look out from  the Mount of Olives, and we saw the panoramic view of Jerusalem from above the cemetery, a scene which you probably know as the most dramatic view of the city.  This was emotional and most humbling to experience in person.  You can see it and read all about it here:  http://www.israelinsideout.com/Things-to-do-in-Jerusalem/the-mount-of-olives-jerusalems-most-iconic-view.html.  There on the mountain we read the account from Acts chapter 1 of Jesus' ascension and the prophecy from Zechariah 14 which states that when he returns to the earth in glory he will stand on this same Mount of Olives.
From there we  took the steep walk down  to the Garden of Gethsemane where we stopped to reflect. We stood in the midst of the ancient olive trees and read the Gospel account of Jesus in that garden, the place where he prayed and suffered to the point of sweating blood as he thought of his death to come. Here Jesus was arrested and was abandoned by his followers.

 On this most holy and sacred ground my main thought was, "Lord, I am not worthy."

Saturday, January 12, 2013

In Israel - Montefiore Book

If you go to Israel be sure to read Jerusalem by Simon Seabag Montefiore (New York, Alfred A. Knopf 2011) before you go, or bring it along with you on your trip as I did.  I have to thank Joe Schuessler for suggesting this great book to me. The author gives you a jet tour of Israel's history starting with David, with a lively presentation of the differences between north and south and moving quickly through a description of each scoundrel who oppressed God's people leading up to the Romans. The story of the Maccabees is like a six-page oasis of encouraging news.   By chapter 9 you are in Jerusalem with the Romans, and as we know things go downhill for God's people from there, although we can't really say that because the Messiah comes during Roman rule.     Reading this book is like having a first rate history-loving tour guide  at your side who presents in the fast paced style that you see here:
"Yet once-haughty Egypt was in such shameful chaos that Pharaoh Siamun raided Gezer not far from Jerusalem and, perhaps finding himself exposed far from home, offered the spoils to Solomon along with his daughter, an unthinkable honour at any other time. But the Temple of Jerusalem, planned by his father, was his masterpiece."   S. S. Montefiore at 31.

Yes, I have problems with the book. The author does not understand the Jewish (and universal) messages  of Jesus and of Paul. But that should not stop a Christian from reading the book. In fact, the chapters on Christian cruelty toward the Jews in Jerusalem  through the centuries should be required reading for all who say that they follow Jesus.

I'm not sure how much respect Montefiore gets from scholars for his recitation of the history, but for making the story exciting I highly recommend him.
This is not all ancient history and gloom. It's a big thick book that takes you through the six-day war.

In Israel - Qumran

 Qumran Cave -the dark spot  Jan 12 2013
I have been in Israel since Tuesday.   In the north. We are heading south toward Jerusalem and tonight we will be at the Dead Sea.  What's the meaning of Qumran when you look at the caves as I am doing now?  People who formed a group in a harsh place to fight for their faith in God and against the dominant culture (paganism thanks to the coming of the Greeks, and corrupt religious leadership in Jeruslaem) which was bearing down on land of the people of God   The Essenes are underrated heroes of our faith.