Liars, brutes, and lazy gluttons?

A grape farmer in Crete offers two clusters from his vineyard as a gift.

“Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons,” said the apostle Paul in his letter to Titus (1:12). My wife and I found no evidence of such dereliction when we traveled across Crete. We stopped along a mountain road to watch the grape harvest, and a farmer approached our car. With a gracious bow he thrust two grape clusters through the window as a gift. The man was neither brute nor lazy glutton!

Paul usually transcends prejudice. In Christ, he said, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, no longer male and female, for all of you are one” (Galatians 3:28). But Paul’s letter to Titus shows how impatient he could be with the “circumcision party,” Jewish Christians who insisted on adherence to the full law of Moses.

The apostle was a brilliant ambassador of the gospel—and very human. His prejudice against Cretans is unfortunate, and stands in contrast to the rest of his message. Was it fair to quote a stereotype about Cretans written six centuries earlier? Was it wise to cite the very words a Cretan philosopher (Epimenides) used to extol the Greek god Zeus? Regarding Zeus the philosopher wrote,

They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,
Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.
But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,
For in you we live and move and have our being.

Perhaps Paul did not use his best judgement in comments about Cretans. But as happens to all of us, he sometimes reflects assumptions of his culture—in his case patriarchy and tolerance of slavery. We need to discern the arc of freedom in Christ that soars through Paul’s theology, and let prejudices that appear in his letters remind us to examine our own biases.

I was raised in a Christian community where people never used ugly epithets for other ethnic groups. But I sometimes heard stereotypes. An “Indian giver” gave a gift and then wanted it back. An unsavory character might try to “Jew down” the price in a business deal. Puerto Rican migrant farm workers could be housed in shacks because “that’s what they’re used to back home.”

Today people in the United States are told that immigrants coming to the southern border are rapists and drug dealers–when every study shows that such newcomers are less likely to commit crime than native-born citizens. Fear-mongering about immigrants is a lie.

Social media and politicians hurl labels at many groups to wound and to incite prejudice, including: Arab, evangelical, conservative, liberal, Muslim, unemployed, gay, homophobic, global, and socialist. These terms can be simply descriptive. Used as slurs, they carry a subtext intended to trigger fear or hatred.

In the larger trajectory of his letters, Paul points away from such manipulation. He exhorts believers on Crete to devote themselves to things that are “excellent and profitable to everyone” (3:8). In counsel that would end prejudicial behavior, Paul tells Titus to “have nothing to do with anyone who causes divisions” (3:11). That is wisdom sorely needed in church and society today.

© 2019  J. Nelson Kraybill ************************

Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a Journey of Hope tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019:

(https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ ).

In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus Fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth.

We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation, including justice issues of Israel and Palestine, as we travel and worship together.

A second Journey of Hope tour on June 10-20, 2020 can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/

Grace for a marginalized man

Spring water still flows across a courtyard in front of ruins of St. Philip’s Church at the traditional site where Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch.

A foreigner from a sexually marginalized group was one of the first Gentiles to receive baptism in the name of Jesus (Acts 8:26-40). The new believer, from the court of the queen of Ethiopia, was a eunuch—a castrated male. Often made so as children without their consent, eunuchs functioned as administrators and servants for rulers who wanted no worries about sexual violation in the royal household. The traveler was returning home after trekking to Jerusalem to worship.

When persecution scattered Christians after the stoning of Stephen, an angel directed Philip to head toward Gaza on the Mediterranean coast. Along the way Philip encountered the eunuch seated in his chariot, reading Isaiah. The Ethiopian invited Philip, apparently traveling on foot, to join him.

This man presumably was a God-fearer, one of a class of Gentiles who participated in aspects of Jewish community, attracted by the monotheism and high ethical standards evident there. But it must have been difficult for a eunuch even of lofty social status to receive spiritual nurture in Jerusalem. The law of Moses established a rigid boundary by declaring that no man with mutilated genitals “shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 23:1).  

But the gospel already had crossed many boundaries of biblical and traditional law. Jesus ministered to lepers, tax collectors, and sinners. He instructed women, cared for centurions, exorcised Gentiles, and loved enemies. Disciples continued Jesus’ boundary-crossing by sharing the gospel with Samaritans, a people whom Jews viewed as spiritually compromised. Now in a chariot on the road to Gaza, Philip explained the gospel to a Gentile from a sexually marginalized group the scriptures excluded.

The Ethiopian asked Philip about Isaiah 53, “Like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him.” Maybe the eunuch himself experienced that kind of rejection in Jerusalem. Overjoyed to hear that the gospel would include him, the eunuch requested baptism, perhaps at Ein Hanya spring near Jerusalem where Christians still remember the eunuch today.

Refaim Stream National Park recently opened along the length of a valley southwest of Jerusalem. An ancient road follows the usually-dry stream bed down the center of the valley. This logically would be the road where Philip met the Ethiopian. At the point along the stream bank where Ein Hanya water gushes forth, early Christians built St. Philip’s church and an outdoor baptismal pool. Spring water still flows through ruins of those structures.

My joy in arriving at the possible site of the eunuch’s baptism was muted because of justice concerns related to Ein Hanya spring. The Green Line–a demarcation between Israel and Palestinian West Bank negotiated in 1949–followed the Refaim stream bed. But Israel, wanting to make the valley a park for Israelis, subsequently appropriated ample land on the Palestinian side of the stream. Residents of the nearby village of al-Walajah, who cultivated surrounding terraces for generations and historically had access to Ein Hanya water, now reach it only with difficulty, if at all. Just as the eunuch learned here that God’s love and concern extend to all, Ein Hanya spring rightly belongs to both Palestinians and Israelis.

Along this ancient road the eunuch, whom Mosaic law seemed to reject, received a warm reception by Philip. Likewise, today’s church can show abundant grace toward all–including children of God from sexually marginalized groups.

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill ***************************

Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a Journey of Hope tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019:

(https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ ).

In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus Fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth.

We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation, including justice issues of Israel and Palestine, as we travel and worship together.

A second Journey of Hope tour on June 10-20, 2020 can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/

Upon this rock

The largest cavern of the quarry under Jerusalem is more than 300 feet across.

“Look, what large stones and what large buildings!” cried a disciple of Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem (Mark 13:1). King Herod and his dynasty had spent decades fabulously rebuilding Israel’s center of worship. Massive white limestone buildings, accented with gold, glistened in the sunlight. The whole complex stood on top of a seven-acre raised platform (“Temple Mount”), which Herod had expanded to make into a wonder of the Roman world.

“Do you see these great buildings?” Jesus answered. “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Those hard words came true a generation later, when Jews rebelled against Roman rule. The most powerful empire on earth, determined to teach a lesson, exacted terrible revenge: Rome destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, crucified tens of thousands of defenders, and demolished the temple the Herod family had taken 46 years to build.

What remains today of Herod’s architecture is the retaining wall made of colossal “Jerusalem limestone” blocks around the perimeter of the Temple Mount. Part of this structure became today’s “Western Wall” where Jews still come to pray or to grieve destruction of God’s house. The largest dressed stone in the wall measures 11 x 16 x 44 feet and weighs a jaw-dropping 500 tons. Imagine the thousands of man-hours it took to cut and move such a block, with no power tools or diesel cranes. “What large stones,” indeed!

Building stones for the temple probably came from a quarry underneath Jerusalem. Near Damascus Gate on the north side of the Old City, a small entrance in the bedrock leads down into an astonishing network of caverns. Called “Solomon’s Quarries” or “Zedekiah’s Cave,” the limestone tunnels extend more than 600 feet under what today is the Muslim Quarter of Old Jerusalem. Chisel marks from stone removal cover walls and ceilings of the underground labyrinth.

One ballroom-size cavern is more than 300 feet wide. Folklore calls water dripping from the ceilings “Zedekiah’s tears,” since he was the last king of Judah before Babylon destroyed Solomon’s temple in 586 BC. Babylonians “slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah; they bound him in fetters and took him to Babylon” (2 Kings 25:7).

Babylon (in 586 BC) and Rome (in AD 70) both destroyed the temple that seemed so secure, a reminder of the fleeting nature of religious and political structures. Today venerable religious, social, and political institutions of the Western world wobble and even collapse. God’s people have experienced worse, and God was faithful. Jewish faith survived destruction of the temple to become a Torah-based religion of the book. Christianity survived to become a global mission movement.

Peter the fisherman once said to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Faith in Jesus as Lord is a foundation more sure than any temple or religious institution, no matter how large their stones.

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill ***************************

JNK2018sm

Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a Journey of Hope tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019:

(https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ ).

In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus Fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth.

We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation, including justice issues of Israel and Palestine, as we travel and worship together.

A second Journey of Hope tour on June 10-20, 2020 can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/


Remember I am with you

Tabgha--compressed CR2
Tabgha springs flow just a few hundred meters before spilling into the Sea of Galilee, where fishermen stand on rocks to catch fish attracted by the warm spring water. Fishermen in Jesus’ time washed nets in pools in the foreground.

Two kilometers west of Capernaum. a stream of warm water swirls around my feet and spills into the Sea of Galilee. This is Tabgha (“Seven Springs”), where a lush oasis covers the shoreline. Freshwater springs, fed underground by snow melt from Mount Hermon, gush from the hillside or well up from rocks. Near this spot Jesus preached, healed, and fed five thousand.

The Gospels say that when Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed. Continuing a little farther, Jesus found brothers James and John in a boat, preparing nets. “Come, follow me!” The two abandoned their boat and their father Zebedee and joined the rambling band following the carpenter’s son.

If there is a probable place where Jesus called these fishermen, it is at these bubbling springs. Fish have eternally gathered by Tabgha’s warmth at this corner of the Sea of Galilee, making these waters ideal for fishing. Even today sportsmen with fishing rods perch on rocks ahead of me to cast their lines. Peter, Andrew, James and John probably washed their nets in natural pools of flowing water that Tabgha creates.

Here where the Lord called disciples, I remember my own experience of Jesus’ summons. I heard the call when a visiting preacher gave the invitation. Much as I now might raise questions about the emotionalism and guilt of old time revival meetings, I am grateful that I can look back on a definitive moment of commitment, and I want to extend Jesus’ invitation to others.

I have learned that the call to follow Jesus comes at multiple times throughout life, as happened with Peter. Somewhere near Tabgha, after the agony and miracle of Passion Week, Jesus met Peter who had returned to fishing (John 21). Having failed to make a single catch after a nighttime of trying, Peter suddenly had 153 fish when a stranger on shore told him to cast nets on the other side.

Buck naked when he realized the stranger was Jesus, the fisherman pulled on clothes and rushed to shore. Words Jesus spoke resound in my ears: “Come have breakfast. . . Peter, do you love me? . . .  Feed my sheep . . . Feed my lambs. . .” Then Jesus added something somber: “When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

Thus Jesus summoned the big fisherman to a lifetime of discipleship, ongoing ministry, and finally death that will include martyrdom and/or physical disability. That’s daunting, and I wonder what such an all-encompassing call means for me. I find comfort and strength in words the risen Christ spoke in Galilee, as recorded by Matthew (28:20): “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************JNK2018sm
Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where so much biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a Journey of Hope tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019 (https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ ). In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth. We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation, including justice issues of Israel and Palestine, as we travel and worship together.
A second Journey of Hope tour on June 10-20, 2020 can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/

Let the Bridegroom come!

Wedding--compressedCRPalestinian weddings can last for a week, as family and friends revel through rounds of anticipatory parties. When it’s finally time for vows, men convene at the groom’s home for one last celebration before leading him away to make promises.

I came upon a wedding in the West Bank north of Jerusalem at just such a moment. The village was a jubilant jam as clapping and laughing men crowded around the groom on a side street and spilled out onto the main thoroughfare. I approached on foot, and all warmly waved me in to join the ruckus. The groom and first man were on shoulders with arms aloft. Music! Drums! Dancing!

Elsewhere family and friends prepared and adorned the bride. If a couple is Christian, the groom’s family (without groom) bring the bride and bridesmaids to church, where all await arrival of the groom and the culminating ceremony. When vows have been made, somber ritual shifts again to celebration with hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, tabbouleh, pita bread, rice, lamb, cake–and more dancing.

Weddings are huge events in Middle Eastern culture, and family reputation is at stake. No wonder Jesus turned water to wine at a Cana wedding feast. A family that needed to show generous hospitality faced the humiliation of empty goblets.

The kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who carried lamps and went to await the bridegroom, Jesus said (Matt. 25). Five were wise to fill their lamps with oil; five were foolish and did not prepare. The bridegroom was delayed until midnight, whereupon the foolish scurried away to buy oil. When they returned, the feast already was underway and doors shut.

What does it mean for us to be ready for the marriage supper of the Lamb, when Christ will bring justice and salvation to the world? Can we get beyond fixation on “rapture” and end-of-the-world Armageddon scenarios to see that God wants to bring a new heaven and a new earth where shalom/salaam will prevail? Do we understand that we are to start living into that transformed future now?

When John of Patmos pictures the end of this age as a wedding, the church is a bride clothed in fine linen, bright and pure. The linen is the “righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev. 19:8). We sinful mortals cannot earn salvation, but actions reveal our spiritual state. After telling the story of bridesmaids, Jesus also likened the inbreaking kingdom of heaven to a property owner who put servants in charge while he traveled. The owner returned to severely punish his servants for poor management. How are we managing in planet care today?

Perhaps the Bridegroom already is present in our world–as an immigrant, or single parent, or displaced person in the West Bank, or refugee from proxy wars of super powers. At final judgement, Jesus said, bewildered “goats” facing eternal separation from God will protest, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” (Matt. 25:45). Come, Lord Jesus, and teach us justice to be ready for your coming.

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************JNK2018sm
Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where so much biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a “Journey of Hope” tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019 (https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ ). In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth. We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation–including justice issues of Israel and Palestine—as we travel and worship together.
A second tour on June 10-20, 2020, similar to the above, can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/

How a conniving ruler ends

Herod the Great, King of Judea, lay dying. Forty years earlier, he had launched his political career after Judea suffered disastrous internal strife that ended in conquest by the Romans. Seeking to restore the nation to grandeur, he befriended Rome, saved Jews from starvation during famine, and made Jerusalem’s temple precinct the largest in the world. But he was duplicitous, building shrines for emperor worship elsewhere even as he funded fabulous refurbishing of the Yahweh temple at Jerusalem. Never forgetting the assassination of his politician father, Herod was paranoid enough to fear even astrologers from the East who came seeking a mysterious newborn king.

Jericho palace CR-LD

Ruins of the bathhouse at Telul Abu Alayeq, the palace of Herod the Great at Jericho. The floor of the sauna room once rested on top of these circular hot air passageways.

Cruelty came easy to Herod, even if that meant slaughtering baby boys of Bethlehem or ordering, from his own deathbed, the execution of his son Antipater. A serial adulterer, he married ten times and murdered the favorite of his wives in a fit of bad judgment. Roman administrators understood that their client king was imbalanced, and Caesar Augustus famously remarked, “I would rather be Herod’s pig than his son.”  Presumably a Jewish king would not eat pork!

Two millennia after Herod’s death in 4 BCE, I approach ruins of the winter palace near Jericho where he breathed his last. All is parched and brown. The nearby dry riverbed (Wadi Qelt) still periodically fills with water, which supplied cisterns and bath houses in Herod’s day. I locate Herod’s swimming pool. Is this where his seventeen year-old brother-in-law Aristobulus, newly appointed high priest at Jerusalem, “accidentally” drowned while swimming? The king was known to be threatened by his gifted relative, and first-century historian Josephus declares that Herod ordered the murder.

You can tell a lot about a person’s character by what happens at their funeral; even political foes may show up out of respect for an honorable leader. That was not going to happen when Herod expired, and he knew it. So in a deathbed act of cruelty recorded by Josephus, Herod ordered that “all the principal men of the entire Jewish nation” convene around him. When they arrived, he had them imprisoned in a nearby hippodrome (racetrack).

Most Jewish leaders despised Herod, and Josephus says the king knew his death would be “exceedingly acceptable to them.” So Herod ordered that at the moment he died, all the imprisoned Jewish leaders be executed without being told that he was gone. At least that way the entire nation would mourn instead of party. Mercifully, no one carried out the demented directive.

I pause at Herod’s bath house, built in classic Roman style. The sauna room is easy to identify, with its circular passageways in the foundation where hot air from a furnace heated the floor above. Herod suffered excruciating pain in his final days, and sought relief with baths. The old despot likely spent time here shortly before death, and I wonder what went through his mind. Any regrets? Could he have imagined that millions of people for centuries primarily would remember him as the ruler who tried to kill the newborn king who taught us to love our enemies and wash feet like a servant?

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************JNK2018sm
Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where so much biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a “Journey of Hope” tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019 (https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ ). In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth. We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation–including justice issues of Israel and Palestine—as we travel and worship together.
A second tour on June 10-20, 2020, similar to the above, can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/

Did the Good News get to Gamla?

I am alone at ruins of the ancient city of Gamla, which once stood on this mountain peak high above the Sea of Galilee. Bird sounds break spooky silence at this isolated place where thousands of Jews took their last stand against Rome in AD 67. Blood ran down steep streets of Gamla after Roman battering rams breached its walls during the great Jewish Revolt of AD 66-73. That insurrection failed and ended in destruction of Jerusalem.

Gamla compressedCR

On this mountain spur the city of Gamla once stood. Halfway up the left slope is the synagogue.

General Vespasian and son Titus commanded troops who slaughtered 4,000 Jews here. As Roman legions closed in, another 5000 Jews hurled themselves to death into ravines far below. Suicide at Gamla has an eerie echo today, with news reports of suicide bombers in various countries. The human cost of warfare–by sword, bullet, bomb, disease, famine or suicide–is staggering.

Gamla synagogue compressedCR

The synagogue at Gamla.

I make my way to ruins of the first-century synagogue. Did Jesus preach here? It’s likely, since Gamla and Capernaum are close enough to be visible to each other on a clear day. The Gospels say Jesus “went about all the cities and villages” in Galilee “teaching in their synagogues.” He proclaimed good news of the kingdom: healing the sick, forgiving sin, caring for the poor, loving enemies. Did his message “take” at Gamla?

Our Lord changes hearts and reconciles sinners with their Creator, making us citizens in a kingdom “not from this world.” This community is heaven-sent, but it takes form here and now in every generation among believers. “The kingdom of God is among you,” our Lord told disciples.

Jewish rebels were ready to die fighting Rome, and Roman soldiers were ready to perish putting down revolt. Followers of Jesus are ready to give our lives for the kingdom of God. We engage spiritual and political battle with weapons of forgiveness and divine authority to heal.

“If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting,” Jesus told Pilate (John 18:36). What a contrast to the deaths of first-century Jewish rebels and Roman soldiers, or the endless spilling of blood today in Syria just over the mountain from Gamla! In the face of such evil, nonviolence and love of enemies seem impractical. But the slaughter of 9000 Jews at Gamla is hardly a practical outcome. Death or displacement of millions in Syria today is not a practical way to solve conflict.

Jesus offers no easy solutions to corrupt government, abusive empire, social injustice or civil war. He nonviolently confronted evil, refused the sword, and faced state execution on a Roman cross. Countless followers have suffered martyrdom rather than compromise their allegiance to the Lamb.

You and I will not save the world or end all suffering by our noble, peaceful deeds. But by giving our lives daily to Jesus in living sacrifice, by showing compassion for the poor and charity toward enemies, we become a tangible expression of the kingdom of heaven. God is breaking the cycle of sin and hatred, empowering us to bring resurrection hope to the world.

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************JNK2018sm
Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where so much biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a “Journey of Hope” tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019 (https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ ). In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth. We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation–including justice issues of Israel and Palestine—as we travel and worship together.
A second tour on June 10-20, 2020, similar to the above, can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/