“Pilgrims here do not bring decisions with them. They come here to seek prayerfully the decisions God wants them to make. And God will always surprise us.”
The Rt. Rev. Sulheil Dawani
Bishop of Jerusalem
speaking to GAFCON 2008
The surprises have already begun. But all in due course.
Jet lag mostly overcome, we awoke to another beautiful morning in Jerusalem. Blue skies. Birds singing. “Biblical plants” growing in gardens. Wandering about the old stone streets and sidewalks, crowded with a wide assortment of humanity, gives me a sort of Indiana Jones feeling. Yesterday, we found a neat little “Educational Bookstore.” All the books were Palestinian polemics – not saying that disparagingly, only to name a genre. It reminds me of leftist bookshops in Argentina -- and they serve espresso.
The best part of being here so far is Eucharist in the side chapel at the Cathedral, celebrated at 7 a.m., simply, reverently, no music, no sermon. Bishop Dawani presided today as the multitude swelled to 11. I love these services. I loved them at Harvard Divinity in 02, when Professor Coakley, an erudite systematic theologian with mystical leanings, would celebrate. (Gordon Kaufman, another famous theologian there, quoted Sarah from her student days as saying, “I am not good enough to be spiritual. I am religious.”) It was my favorite service as a parish priest. I miss this simple, reverent, quiet service so much!!! And yes, somehow the Eucharist feels special – the anamnesis more palpable – do this in remembrance of me – here where it was instituted and first celebrated.
On our first day of unstructured time (before the class starts), we explored the heart of the Palestinian Quarter of the Old City, that being the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Russian Orthodox Church featuring excavations going back to the time of Jesus. On this second and last day of unstructured time, we ambled toward (but not much into) the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, that being the site of the Western Wall and the Armenian Patriarchate. It was a process of acculturation, which goes along with overcoming jet lag. All part of getting ready for the class beginning tonight – preparation along with reading.
One mystery I have been reading about is what Jesus did in the Temple, why he did it, and what, if anything, it had to do with his crucifixion. Huge question. It has to be set in the context of a general shift in religions around the globe in the 800 BCE to 200 CE era away from animal sacrifice toward something more spiritual like bhakti (devotion) or medication practices in Hinduism, study and practice of Torah in Judaism, etc. The Jewish shift away from Temple sacrifice and toward ethical religion goes back to the 8th Century prophets, particularly Micah and 2nd Isaiah. The idea of initiation into the people of God and the engagement of the Kingdom mission outside the Temple authority structure was certainly part of Jesus’ message. But it doesn’t explain what looks like an assault on the Temple.
Here’s a clue. Jesus’ call to repentance may have included repentance from violent nationalistic revolt. His prophesies often related to what would happen to Judah if they persisted in a path toward such an uprising. (Borg, Wright) The words that accompanied Jesus’ symbolic action were: “My Father’s house should be a house of prayer for all people, but you have made it a den of lestos.” “Lestos” is usually translated as “thieves” and understood to mean swindlers suggesting the moneychangers and purveyors of doves were ripping off the pilgrims.
“Lestos,” however, does not mean a swindler or general practitioner of theft by chicanery or slight of hand. It means one who robs by violence. It is a bandit or brigand. In 1st Century Judah, brigands tended to be political outlaws, more like terrorists than simple thieves. Every time Josephus uses the word “lestos” it refers to such a political outlaw. Herod’s Temple was regarded as a symbolic symbol for the nationalist uprising in Jesus’ day, just as Solomon’s Temple had been in Jeremiah’s day. Jesus echoed Jeremiah in his critique of the Temple and, again like Jeremiah, foresaw its destruction not by supernatural second sight, but by counting the number of soldiers Judah had as compared to Babylon in Jeremiah’s case or Rome in Jesus’. This analysis courtesy of N. T. Wright. For a long time, Jesus’ prophesies were interpreted literally as the end of space-time. Given that interpretation, he was simply wrong. A more historically coherent political read of his prophesies, he was tragically right. It all happened in 70 CE.
Tonight our class began with a surprise. 17 Episcopal Idahoans are here!!! I had somehow picked up there would be a couple of folks from the potato state – but I had figured they’d probably be Catholics or Presbyterians. Then my friend, Stephanie Crumrine of Twin Falls, asked me on FB if I had seen the Idaho contingent, so I knew they would be Episcopalians. Then they turned out to be most of our class. For those who don’t know, Linda and I became Episcopalians in Boise and regard Idaho as our spiritual home.
All of a sudden, titling this blog “my happy home” did not seem ironic anymore. We met briefly and headed to the Cathedral for Eucharist. There we sang just one hymn. It was Cwm Rhonda (Guide me O thou great Jehovah – only here they sub Redeemer for Jehovah, out of what I guess is a sensibility to the Jewish prohibition on speaking the Divine Name) – which is unto Wales as Danny Boy is to Ireland. And Wales is my ancestral home. I thought as Peter said, “It is very good for us to be in this place.”