Do you want to be made well?

With cancer in his middle-aged body and the prospect of lifespan shortened, Doug Brewer joined a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2014 while health permitted. Near the start of the Via Dolorosa—the traditional “way of suffering” where Jesus carried his cross through Jerusalem—Doug and fellow pilgrims visited ruins of Bethzatha (Bethesda) Pool. A man who had been sick for thirty-eight years once lay beside that pool until Jesus asked, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6)


At Bethzatha Pool, fellow pilgrims surround Doug Brewer with love and prayers. Others in the picture (clockwise starting with woman in black close to the camera) are Mary Lou Farmer, Hortensia Unternaher, Ruby (local tour guide), Shana Peachey Boshart, Roger Farmer, Martha Yoder, Randy Dalke, Karen Dalke, Helen Lindstrom, and David Boshart (leading the prayer).

Bethzatha Pool was known in ancient times as a place of healing. Some New Testament manuscripts say that “an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well.” The man sick for thirty-eight years must have been paralyzed. “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up,” he said to Jesus. “While I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”

Having others in church or society step ahead of them sometimes happens to persons with illness or physical challenges. “I have no one to put me into the pool” is another way of saying my community ignores me. In some faith communities, those with chronic illness feel judged as lacking faith or willpower, or even as having sin in their lives.

The man at Bethzatha Pool did not have a sustaining community. No one helped him into the water, and religious watchdogs were quick to bark when miraculously and wonderfully he was able to rise and carry his mat—but in violation of strict Sabbath rules (5:10).

Warm hands and heartfelt prayers

Someone in our pilgrim band at Bethzatha Pool asked Doug if he wanted prayer for healing. Soon we surrounded him with warm hands and heartfelt petition to God. No one presumed personal powers to cure; all of us entrusted Doug’s health to a loving Creator.

Two years later I inquired by email about Doug’s well-being. Turns out he was at death’s door in the interval, but survived. “By God’s grace and many prayers, I’m back to normal and feeling really good,” he wrote. “My cancer level has been at 0 for the past several months, so I’m not on any chemo at the moment.”

Praise God! A loving family and community walked with Doug through his own Via Dolorosa. Faith, divine power, and modern medicine converged to restore Doug. We do well to view all healing as a gift from God, without needing to distinguish between miraculous and natural recovery. We also do well to accept that sometimes, even with faith abundant and excellent medical care, we or persons we love remain ill or die.

The author of Sirach (a book the early church considered canonical), writing about 200 BC, gives counsel still good for us today: “When you are ill . . . pray to the Lord, and he will heal you. . . Then give the physician his place, for the Lord created him . . . There may come a time when recovery lies in the hands of physicians, for they too pray to the Lord that he grant them success in diagnosis and in healing” (Sirach 38:9-14).

© 2016  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************IMG_0425

Thanks to Doug Brewer for reviewing this blog and giving me permission to publish. For a fascinating article on prayer and healing in an unlikely source, see “Mind over matter,” National Geographic, December 2016, pp. 30–55.

In 2018 I plan to lead a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour for people with hiking boots, accessible to non-athletes like myself. Tentative dates are May 15-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum, and possibly hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls (yes, you can circumnavigate the Old City on top of the walls), trace the Triumphal Entry route, and more. Interested? Please be in touch with me and/or with

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. . . The wolf and the lamb shall feed together . . . They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.”  Isa. 65:18–19, 25

Israel, Jerusalem, Western Wall

The Western Wall is part of the foundation of the huge platform that Jews call the Temple Mount. The bottom courses of stone above ground are from King Herod’s construction. The Dome of the Rock (upper left) is at the likely location of the ancient temple. Jews pray in the courtyard below at right, near the wall.

What spot on earth elicits more spiritual yearning than the great platform  in Jerusalem that Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and Jews call the Temple Mount?

On this “holy mountain” King Solomon built the first temple, a structure Babylonians destroyed four centuries later. Here Zerubbabel built the second temple–demolished by Roman armies a generation after Jesus’ ministry. On this platform Jesus upset both money-changing tables and religious authorities. Here Muslim ruler Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock shrine in the seventh century—an elegant structure that still is a jewel in the heart of the Old City.

Under the dome is an outcrop of bedrock that, according to Jewish and Islamic traditions, is where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. From this rock, say Muslims, Mohammed and his horse took flight for a nighttime visit to heaven. Sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, this religious precinct long has been a flashpoint of conflict.

Devout Jews do not go up on the great platform for two reasons: 1) the presence of Jews is offensive to Muslims who control the precinct, and 2) there is danger of unwittingly walking into the Holy of Holies; no one knows precisely where the ancient temple stood.

Israel, Jerusalem, Western Wall, wailing

A worshiper weeps against the  great retaining wall, all that remains of the temple destroyed in AD 70.

So Jews pray outside and below the great platform, at a courtyard where a 200-foot length of the retaining wall built by King Herod is accessible. Colossal, finely-dressed masonry stones, some weighing an incredible 500 tons, form the wall. This facade is about as close as worshippers can get to the site of the ancient temple without going up onto the platform.

The closest spot is an ancient underground hall next to Dome of the Rock along the Western Wall. Here Orthodox Jewish men pray, some before banners depicting the ancient temple. Others lean against the Western Wall and weep for loss of the temple.

Elsewhere in the Holy Land, Palestinians weep for loss of homeland and civil rights since the founding of Israel as a state in 1948. Jews lament destruction of the temple and unfathomable losses of the Holocaust. Palestinians grieve what they call the Nachba (“disaster”) of 1948, when Israeli armies destroyed hundreds of Arab villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Many of those Palestinians and their descendants still live in refugee camps today.

At the Western Wall I thank God that Jews at last have a homeland. I love the scriptures they cherish and pray daily with Psalms they use. I also pray for Palestinians, who deserve security and dignity in the land of their birth. The provocation of Jewish settlers moving into West Bank territory that belongs to Palestinians grieves me and makes Israel less secure.

I pray that Jews will follow the best lights of their own biblical prophets and seek justice for all in the Holy Land. I support Jews, Palestinians, Christians, Muslims and others who work for reconciliation among peoples of the Holy Land. I want Christians around the world to be agents of healing rather than add to polarization through uncritical Zionism or coercive boycotts. God hasten the day when the wolf and the lamb feed together in Jerusalem.

© 2015 J. Nelson Kraybill ****************************************************IMG_0425

Want to see Jordan, Israel, and Palestine? To join a Peace-Pilgrim Bible study tour in 2016, see

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Jesus and state-sponsored terror.

Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Heb 13:12-14

Jesus did not die “on a green hill far away.” He was victim of a crude instrument of state torture along a busy road where passersby saw him close up. Like most political terror, from suicide bombing to lethal injection, crucifixion was meant to exact revenge and traumatize the public into conformity. Roman theatrics of terror forced Jesus to carry the crossbeam for his own crucifixion through streets of Jerusalem to a small quarry outside the city wall, to a rocky prominence called Golgotha that apparently looked like a skull.

Via Dolorosa picture

The traditional route of the Via Dolorosa, marked in green, goes from Antonia Fortress at the Temple to Golgotha. More likely Jesus carried his cross along the red route, starting at the Palace of Herod (today called the “Citadel” or “Tower of David”).  Golgotha, the small quarry where Jesus died, today is within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In the first century Golgotha was outside the city wall; the city had not yet expanded to include that area.

Christian pilgrims since medieval times have thought that the trial of Jesus took place at Antonia Fortress, a Roman facility adjacent to the Temple complex on the east side of old Jerusalem. But that building–a surveillance tower and military barracks that no longer exists–was not the praetorium or governor’s palace where the Gospel of John says the trial, flogging, and mockery of Jesus took place (John 18:28).

The praetorium, rather, was what today we call the Citadel or “Tower of David” on the west side of old Jerusalem. The Via Dolorosa (“route of suffering”) along which Jesus carried his crossbeam, started here. Phasael Tower, so named by Herod the Great for his deceased brother, guarded the north end of the palace. It still stands.

Archeologists have worked underneath areas adjacent to Phasael Tower for decades, and at last this year have opened what they found to the public. Astonishingly, one now can visit a large room that plausibly is where Jesus stood before Pilate.

Tower of David

The lower two sections of the massive structure on the right are what remain of Phasael Tower built by Herod the Great.

Jesus’ death by state-sponsored terror had the spiritual effect of sanctifying (setting apart for holy purpose) all who confess Jesus as Lord. His death had the political effect of pointing believers to citizenship in a “city which is to come” rather than in structures of empire and nationalism (Heb 13:12, 13). That city is the New Jerusalem–not simply where we go when we die, but a new political and economic order already taking shape on earth wherever believers abandon idolatry and violence and give allegiance to the Lamb (Rev. 22).

© 2015 J. Nelson Kraybill ***************************************IMG_0425

I invite you to enter your email address in the designated box at the edge of this webpage (if you have not already subscribed), and click Follow. You’ll get a notice every three weeks when I put up a new blog post.

Join me for the following tour this fall, when I expect to get my first look at the praetorium of Herod. See: Holy Land (Jordan, Israel & Palestine) with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 5-16, 2015

For an article about the recent opening of Herod’s palace to the public, see:

Welcome to the Peace Pilgrim blog!

cropped-img_49031.jpgThank you for stopping by. Take a moment to study the scene above. The background is a mural portraying main street of sixth-century Jerusalem. The foreground is busy with a scrum of modern pilgrims. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to step into that ancient street and learn about Jerusalem of 1500 years ago?

In fact, the mural is on a wall today in Old Jerusalem that stands at the end of a stretch of the actual sixth-century street. I took the picture below with my back to the mural. Now you see pavement stones and columns that once lined the Cardo Maximus (main north-south street) of Byzantine Jerusalem.Israel, Jerusalem, Cardo Maximo

I invite you to step into the world of the Bible and the early church by following this blog. I will not spam you! Once or more a month, photos will appear with brief commentary on a site or object related to biblical or church history. A few insights about the subject of the picture will follow, along with a few devotional ruminations.

The blog name “peace pilgrim” reflects my desire to travel, learn and worship with particular focus on matters of peacemaking, liberation, and mission. The Bible (like our world today) often is troubling and complex. Lofty ideas of caring for vulnerable people get mixed in with accounts of conquest and violence. Radical devotion to God stands alongside accounts of greed and sin.

This wide spectrum of human experience makes the Bible a marvelous frame of reference for spiritual, ethical and vocational reflection. I love faith stories from the past and opportunity to visit places where heroes or villains of the biblical narrative played on the stage of history.

With all its messiness, the Bible portrays a long trajectory from Creation and Fall to New Creation in Jesus Christ. God is calling a people to live into God’s future of healing and hope. I want to place every posting of this blog somewhere on that long trajectory. To adapt a phrase from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the arc of salvation history is long, but it bends toward God’s shalom.

I look forward to traveling this way with you. Please pass on the link to anyone you know who might be interested.

Nelson Kraybill

I invite you to enter your email address in the designated box at the edge of this webpage (if you have not already subscribed), and click Follow. You’ll get a notice every three weeks when I put up a new blog post.