Grace for a marginalized man

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…

Upon this rock

“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…

Remember I am with you

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. Warm water gushes from the hillside and wells up from rocks, making this corner of the sea attractive to both fish and…

Let the Bridegroom come!

Palestinian 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…

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…