I still have to pinch myself every morning that we were there. It was incredible, to say the least. It was life-changing. It was different, and uncomfortable, and so painfully beautiful. It was smelly and noisy and stressful and relaxing and I didn't like the food and I loved the people and some things scared me and other things inspired me and the climate was a lot like Phoenix, which my skin was happy about.
My current project is furiously writing down each day's itinerary in my journal. I'm spending my lunch breaks chewing pen caps and going through photos, trying to piece together what we did each day by looking at what I was wearing in each picture. We saw so much. We went all over that beautiful, stubborn country and I loved every single inch and footstep.
I'm planning to share more about the sites we saw and all that we learned in this blog, but what I want to write about right now is a feeling; or a lesson I learned or at least wrestled with while I was there. It turns out being where Jesus lived and walked and taught and wept dredges up some stuff, you know?
Before I go any further, though, I have to give a shout out to Morning Star Tours. If you are ever planning a trip to the Holy Land, USE THEM. And request Shmulik as your guide. He is an absolute ENCYCLOPEDIA on Israel, Jesus, the Old Testament, and British accents. I can't imagine what our trip would've been like without him - each site was absolutely fascinating but we were never sorry to have to get back on the bus because he would have some ridiculous story to tell.
So, being in Jerusalem was really something. It was a culture shock, first and foremost. The food seemed strange, the people were somewhat rude, the shop keepers were aggressive and every structure was drop-dead gorgeous. On our second day, we visited the temple steps that were built during King Herod's Second Temple Period. This Herod is the one that died right around the time Jesus was born, and this is the temple Jesus would have visited. Herod made the steps difficult to navigate - one long step, one narrow, one long, one narrow and etc. - so that people couldn't run down them away from the temple. (This wasn't a holy thing. This was a money thing, I'm guessing.)
And in front of the steps are dozens and dozens of little stone structures (they reminded me of the "famine houses" we saw in the Burren in Ireland) that Shmulik said were the ritual baths, where Jews would have washed themselves before going up to the temple courtyard.
Jesus walked up these very steps, and He likely spent some time teaching on them as well, because that was common back then. I wanted to sleep on them. To eat on them. To spend the whole rest of our trip on them. I wanted to look in every single direction from them and wonder "did he see this?" And I wanted to touch them and take them with me.
But at the same time all I could suddenly hear was Mark 2:17, where Jesus tells the Pharisees that He didn't come for the righteous, but for the sinners; because it's not the healthy who need a doctor.
I have no idea where it came from.
I was not sitting there thinking I am "righteous" or not a sinner. What I was thinking was - I am a boring sinner. I am an ugly sinner but a boring one; I don't cheat people out of money and I'm not a prostitute. I believe in Jesus but I lie and I'm lazy and I manipulate people and I'm proud. But these are boring and not showy and not always noticeable. And suddenly I had this thought - He would've ignored me! If we had been here at the same time, He would've ignored me.
It's like that feeling in school, when maybe you're doing really well in a subject so the teacher gives all her attention to the kids who are struggling, and suddenly you feel left out and sad. And again it's not that I was thinking "I am perfect so I wouldn't have needed him," it's that I was thinking "I already believed in Him, so would He have wasted time on me?" Or, maybe more accurately, "I wonder if He would have liked me enough to spend time with me" and then, answering, "no."
I went around for days ruminating on that, mourning over it, even waking up in the middle of the night in our hotel and crying over it. It broke my heart. To think He would've ignored me. And I started journaling about what I wanted - what did I want? I didn't know. I wanted Him to tell me that He wouldn't've ignored me; that He's not ignoring me now; that I mean something to Him. And then I realized that if He told me those things, I would think less of Him. Who am I that He'd think of me? Do I want a God who would? Could He still be Power and Might then?
As the days went on and we went to more and more places, I wouldn't say I ever came to terms with it, just that it softened to make room for all the other things going on in me - wonder, gratitude, repeat. It was such an unbelievable gift to be there and I felt that, and it made me feel loved even despite.
But when I got home I was talking to my mentor about it and she smiled a little bit and asked me - are you the "healthy?"
Then she brought up the story of the 99 sheep, and the one goes missing, and He goes after it. I said, yes! Perfect example! I'm the 99. The timid, boring ones who are easily hearded and scared to toe the line; never the squeaky wheel. And now I'm feeling hurt that He's ignoring me for the one.
(Now I picture Jesus taking off his glasses, rubbing his eyes, and sighing, because how do I manage to get every single thing wrong?)
"We're all the one," my mentor said. "That's the point."
We're all the sick. Who knew that could be so difficult to figure out? Or that it could make someone so happy?
More to come.