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…

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…

Respect for both Jews and Palestinians

“At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” With that casual aside, the biblical account of Abraham and Sarah arriving in Canaan states that the territory already was populated. “To your offspring I will give this land,” God told Abraham (Gen. 12). Today near the northern border of modern Israel there’s a mud-brick Canaanite…

Jesus calls women to the center

Nancy Kauffmann of Goshen, Indiana has long been a pioneer as a woman in congregational and denominational leadership. So it’s not surprising that a painting by Chilean artist Daniel Cariola in a chapel next to the Sea of Galilee caught her attention. She and fellow pilgrims already had seen the first-century synagogue recently discovered nearby…

Let God do the sorting

From a boat on the Sea of Galilee, a fisherman demonstrates the ancient art of casting a circular net. Weights along the outer edge sink rapidly, pulling the web around any living thing below. Waters next to Jesus’ ministry base at Capernaum teemed with tilapia, carp, and sardines when his first disciples plied their trade….

In trouble for speaking the truth

Don’t expect to be popular if you advocate Sermon on the Mount values at a time when even prominent Christian leaders schmooze politicians who trumpet greed, nationalism, racism, and adultery. Alone in the Judean desert after his baptism, Jesus endured a test that showed he was not trying to improve his ratings (Luke 4). Jesus…

In you all nations will be blessed

Renewed controversy in recent months over the location of Israel’s capital (Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?) takes my imagination to biblical Bethel in the West Bank. At this “thin place” between heaven and earth, Jacob dreamed of angels ascending and descending, and received promises about the land (Genesis 28). For my own spiritual prospects, I take…

Let me sleep when I die

When my earthly sojourn ends, please say that I died, not that I “passed.” The latter happens to footballs and, well . . . to gas. Aversion to death makes our culture prefer euphemism, but followers of Jesus acknowledge death and resurrection at the center of our faith. We name them, and do not fear…

Resisting the powers of greed

In the name of Jesus, Paul and Silas healed a slave-girl at Philippi whose owners exploited her for money as a fortune-teller (Acts 16). When the owners “saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.” Officials beat the two, then…

A tyrant loses moral authority

On the west side of Old Jerusalem, outside the city wall, lads from a Yeshiva school visit with their teacher and play. They gather among scant ruins of what probably was the western entrance to Herod the Great’s palace at the time Jesus was born. Matthew reports that wise men from the East, presumably Gentiles,…