I was asked, “What was your first meal in Israel?” It was a chicken casserole at Bryson and May Arthur’s apartment (Bryson is the president of N.E.T.S. and from Scotland.) Probably not the most exciting answer despite how delicious it was. So inevitably I was asked; “okay, what was your second meal?” Oh well, we had lunch at a Chinese restaurant. I’m bringing this up to maybe demystify modern Israel a bit; while it is the Holy Land it’s still a very modern state. For example when I needed more cloths hangers I went to Ace Hardware, for pens and paper I went to Office Depot. I told the lady I was with while at Ace Hardware that a lot of people in the states probably wouldn’t believe me if I told them where I was. In fact on the way to Nazareth from the Airport we passed through Armageddon, and the first thing I saw was a McDonald’s, I figured it was only a matter of time before they acquired a Wal-Mart and Satan’s armies would be complete.
Despite all the stores, all the traffic, and all the noise there is still something very special about Israel, it is after all where Jesus lived out his ministry. As I said before, my second meal was at a Chinese restaurant, what I didn’t mention was that it was on the Sea of Galilee. It was spectacular looking out across the body of water where Jesus calmed the storm and walked on water. Bryson set across the table calmly explaining to me where they think different events took place. The Sermon on the Mount, the feeding of the 5000, and the casting out of demons into swine. My mind was working at full capacity thinking that it was on this shore that Jesus called his first disciples, taught the masses from a boat, and just lived life.
Before we went to lunch on the Sea of Galilee we attended church in downtown Nazareth, just a short walk from where I’m staying. The service was in Arabic, and they had a translator for the English speakers. The message was out of Luke 2, about the Shepherds who went to Bethlehem to see Jesus after he was born. It struck me during the sermon that when Bethlehem is mentioned it means something completely different here, it’s not an ancient city that only exists in mind, rather it’s a real place that one could easily drive to. While the sermon was great, the thing that got to me most was the worship. Most the songs were in Arabic, but there were a few in both Arabic and English. That is to say, they were led in Arabic but the overhead projector had both English and Arabic lyrics. As most the congregation sang in Arabic, Bryson sang in his Scottish accent and I sang in my American accent, I felt that I was getting a glimpse into the throne room of God, where every tongue will confess the glories of God. I suppose I’ve always heard the glories of God confessed in English, or in another language, but never at the same time. It was truly remarkable to hear Christians, no matter what their earthly allegiance, singing praises to their creator.
Out of everything I’ve seen and done in the last week the most impactful happened yesterday. While out running errands with May she took me to Mt. Precipice. I’ve been to Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy on Biblical tours, but I’ve never had so many butterflies in my stomach as we ascended the mountain. Traditionally this is the spot where after reading from Isaiah and proclaiming the year of Jubilee the crowds in Nazareth tried to throw Jesus off a cliff (Luke 4). You see, the crowds Jesus was preaching to were happy with his reading from Isaiah, and hearing that he was there to bring good news to the poor, release the captives, give sight to the blind, and free the oppressed. They identified themselves as the poor, the blind, the oppressed, and the captives, but Jesus went on to give a sermon after his reading. He brought up the gentile widow that Elijah helped and the gentile leper that Elisha helped, pointing out that the year of the Lord’s Favor was to be extended to more than just those in the crowd. To the hearers, however, it was worth killing Jesus over the message that God might show favor to those truly hurting, and to those considered enemies. It was Jesus inaugural speech, and already he was driving crowds to murder, and what was his message? Simply, it was radical love. It’s one of my favorite stories in the Bible; it’s an outline for all of Jesus ministry, and one that can conjure up just as strong emotions today. I’ve witnessed in even my limited experience the hate that can be summoned in people, even Christians, when you tell them of radical love. The idea of truly loving an enemy is absurd, and can easily label one as a traitor, but it is the message of Jesus, from his first sermon, to his dying breath. I wondered while I stood on the top of Mount Precipice looking out across the beautiful view how many mountains the world would need if all Christians professed this same type of love.
I realize that would have been a great note to end on, and it hardly covers everything that I've done the last week, or even mentions the wonderful people I've met, but there are a few things I want to bring up. First off, thanks for reading the blog if you haven’t already start following it; I appreciate all the support that’s been sent my way and thank you for all the prayers I've received. Also, if anyone asks about my blog they can get to it by going to thespoiledamerican.com or bryanhensley.org. If you want to call me feel free to give a ring at (760) 990-8993, just remember I’m 8 hours ahead CST. And lastly, since I’m in Israel I want to open myself up to any questions people may have, so feel free to live vicariously through me, ask me about anything you want to know involving my travels and stay here. I don’t guarantee to have a good answer, but I would love to talk about my experience so please leave a comment and I’ll try to respond in a timely fashion. Again, thanks for all the support.