Our Shelton family trip to Israel was moving in so many ways. We were reminded that Jesus is still calling his disciples today, even you and me.
Some highlights were sitting on the southern steps of the Temple Mount, where Jews in Jesus time would have entered to go to Temple, where rabbis taught and where people gathered. The original steps are still there! This means Jesus walked there and probably taught there and so did Peter and Paul!
We also visited Jacob’s Well (see below) – where Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John 4 and revealed himself to be the Messiah. The well there is the same well from the patriarch Jacob’s time and from Jesus’ time - active and working – and we drew water from it! The well is located underground – underneath the altar area of a beautiful Eastern Orthodox church, manned by a faithful priest, who has protected the well since 1979 for pilgrims like us to visit it.
We also spent a night at a Bedouin camp in the desert. Bedouins are nomadic people and told us they come from the tradition of Abraham, several thousand years ago. Jerry would like that they really practice hospitality – giving us tea and coffee on arrival and feeding us well with traditional foods. Although this camp is there for tourists like us, we still
“roughed it” by riding camels (great fun – but uncomfortable), and sleeping in a tent with rugs on the floor and blankets for walls – an amazing experience! There were camels, goats and peacocks roaming around – strange but cool nonetheless.
We started each day on our trip reciting the Sh’ma in both Hebrew and English with our teacher and guide, Geoff Carroll. The Sh’ma is what Jesus says is the greatest commandment in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 which says “Hear O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might!” Jesus also says, “and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18). While this commandment is familiar to us, it was more ingrained in us as we recited it each morning – as good Jews have recited it from memory for thousands of years, including Jesus, who as a Jewish rabbi would have recited the Sh’ma each day.
“Sh’ma” means “Hear” and we talked about what it means to hear. There is not a word for “obey” in Hebrew, but the word “hear” can also be loosely translated as obey. When we tell our children to “listen” we are really saying, “listen to what I’m saying and please obey.” As followers of Jesus we are to hear – or listen and obey what the teacher, or rabbi, says - to hear what Jesus calls us to do and be.
One of my favorite memories will be sitting along side the shore of Sea of Galilee at the traditional spot where Jesus reinstated Peter as a disciple by asking, “Do you love me?” and then Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21). I think Jesus is also wanting to know if we love him too – and we can show our love by listening and following him.
As we sat along the shore of the Sea of Galilee there at that same spot, our teacher Geoff, pointed up the coast and said Capernaum, the town of Jesus’ ministry and Peter’s hometown, just about a half mile up the
coast. An aside: One of the highlights of the Sea of Galilee region is many of the famous villages and locations of the gospels are very close together – most within a few miles of each other! Between where we sat and Capernaum was a spot where a warm spring fed into the Sea and a place where fisherman for centuries liked to fish and to clean their nets. Scholars think this spot, just 100-200 yards from where we sat, is where Jesus called the fisherman, Peter and Andrew, James and John, to be disciples in Matthew 4. Jesus said, “Come, follow me.” As we traveled to so many incredible sights around Israel, we felt the call to come and follow Jesus.
The trip made the Bible come alive for us. These places from the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (we visited the site of their tombs at the Machpelah in Hebron!) and then to the time of Jesus are real places – we could see them, walk them, and touch them – many of the buildings or ruins are still there! So for Claire and I, our faith is more confirmed after this trip – and our hope is that our kids’ faith is strengthened as well.
We didn’t just live in the past on the trip, we ate new foods, met Jews and Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem tending shops, working in restaurants, driving our bus and driving cabs. We played cards, laughed a lot, and got really tired. So the call to come and follow Jesus is not just a call for disciples 2000 years ago but for us today as well in the present. Being there for me was also humbling, and I am reminded that although I get tired and fall short in many ways, Jesus can reinstate me as his disciple – and I can respond by following him. May you hear Jesus’ call to come and follow him even this week, and say yes when he calls you too.