According to the (Christian) Bible life is the journey on the road from Eden (our first home) to the new Jerusalem. In the meantime, the Bible says we are to “give God no rest” until he makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth. We just might be seeing this work in progress today!
Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the city that Saint Augustine translated as “a vision of peace”, others translate it as a “city of peace”. In Arabic it is called “al Quds” which means Holy City. Jerusalem is first mentioned in Genesis in the Hebrew Bible when Abraham has bread and wine with the King of Righteousness in Jerusalem. Since the beginning of time men have killed each other for control of it, artists have drawn it, holy men have written about it and singers have sung about. Today it is a vibrant, complex city.
Currently, there are basically two Jerusalem’s, one mostly Jewish (west Jerusalem) and one mostly Arab (east Jerusalem) – although this is changing, in a controversial manner sort of like Cowboys and Indians or perhaps America’s south fifty years ago. One thing that is absolutely amazing is the economic differences (although Arabs are thriving in Israel in places like Nazareth/Galilee, Jaffa and Abu Gosh).
The Bible says that the final resurrection will occur in Jerusalem near the Mount of Olives so I thought I’d go check it out. On my way to the Mount of Olives I bought two bags of chips, two chocolate bars and a large water at an Arab store near the Damascus Gate near East Jerusalem. Amazingly it only cost about 15 shekels! It would probably be 30 – 50 shekels in the rest of Jerusalem. Nice!
From the Mount of Olives, (har zeitim in Hebrew), there is a beautiful overlook of the city that looks down on the Dome of the Rock aka Temple Mount aka land of Mount Moriah right near the western “wailing” wall, which dates back to the temple where Jesus frequented. It was VERY disappointing walking around as when I tried to enter the Greek Orthodox church on the top of the mountain I was told it was for Orthodox ONLY, confirming that Christian unity is sadly so weak as they continue to discriminate against each other! Its so disappointing when religions discriminate against each other, even worse when it’s seemingly within the same religion. Jerusalem is full of religious people excluding each other. I’ve seen Jews do it to Jews, this is an example of Christians doing it to Christians. The lack of freedom of worship is one of the big disputes of Islam and the West and also very much in Jerusalem. At the Dome of the Rock Muslims won’t let anyone but Muslims pray there. How quickly we forget that before God we are all equals. Why does religion so quickly try to do the opposite and divide people? Then it got worse, as I went across the street to the small church commemorating Jesus’ Ascension – this is basically in a mosque, I was saddened as this is one of the most pathetic sites I have ever seen, dirty and not maintained at all, and they charge 5 shekels to enter! Churches don’t charge to enter unless its also a mosque, I guess. Also, there is another much larger church in the distance (pater noster?) on the top of the hill behind this one but it has no clear entrance as I walked entirely around the huge hill looking for the entrance. There are some footpaths but due to security concerns I decided not to risk it as I was already in a much disputed area.
After walking around the Mount of Olives I decided to just sit down and enjoy the amazing view. Sitting there on the stairs I saw a tourist gimmick with a very Jesus looking guy in a royal robe riding up on a white horse/donkey being led by an Arab dressed like a sheik. They pull up not too far behind me. A few minutes later after hearing a noise I turned around to realize the Jesus actor and the sheik had walked off and the noise was of a soft plop and then a sound like a waterfall as the horse dropped a large deposit and just stared at me as I was staring at it – it was odd. A few minutes later the sheik came back and cleaned it all up, which was rather nice. This was the fanciest dressed guy I ever saw cleaning up after Jesus’ horse. Only in Israel!
Israel’s capital Jerusalem, the spiritual capital of the world – is a people and a place of immense diversity, where a plurality of unity is somehow, almost miraculously, maintained. Perhaps this stems from Jewish tradition of agreeing to disagree, (80% of the “Jewish Bible”, the Talmud, is people disagreeing with each other about the “right” way to worship God in various parts of life – but as a people they still stick together, for the most part.
I think one of the things that really separates Jews and Gentiles is the Jewish ability to make distinctions in everything. Ancient distinctions like: God/man, Jew/Gentile, Jewish, clean and unclean food, a separate day of rest, to modern distinctions in learning. IMHO, the Jewish talent for making distinctions is a key factor in why Jews are such a creative and innovative people who have contributed so much to humanity etc. I believe this “spirit of distinction” is the secret that amazingly preserved God’s people, Israel (as the Bible repeatedly calls them) without a national homeland for thousands of years. In 1948 when the country of Israel was revived from its glory days of Solomon’s temple and the Davidic Kingdom and and the miracle continues as we are now witnesses to this extraordinary event as God continues to regather His people, Israel, and Jerusalem is the center of it.
Rest, aka sabbath, or shabbat in Hebrew, is amazing in Jerusalem because it is so quiet and peaceful in Jerusalem each day of shabbat, when the rest of the week is normally hectic, noisy and frenetic. It is amazing. One really neat thing to see is to go to the Wall just before sunset before shabbat and you will see thousands of Jews spontaneously singing and dancing as they welcome in the God given gift of shabbat. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else and I think its one of my favorite things to see in Jerusalem.
Shabbat is a marker of time. A full day of rest each week. God’s people Israel also maintain the world’s oldest calendar. Is it really the year 1431 as the Muslims say, or is it really 2010 as the Christians say or is it actually 5771 as God’s people Israel calculate?
Finally, perhaps the greatest thing about Jerusalem and being at the Wall is that one can see that unlike the Muslims and Christians who fence off their holy places like at Mecca (only Muslims allowed) and the Vatican (sealed like a fortress), is that the Wall is basically just a huge open air space for EVERYBODY. Its an open library for prayer and learning (lots of books) about the things of God. Open to all. Awesome, God!