As thirty-two pastors sat down to dinner before heading to the airport for their flights home from Israel, they were asked to think of a word or two that described the recent six days of travel through the Holy Land. As each took their turn to reflect, they didn’t say it was “great.” They didn’t say it was “fun.” They didn’t say it was “wonderful” or “fabulous” – though the experience was all of that and much, much more. No, they said it was “awakening.” They said it was “life-changing.” They said it was “transforming.”
Since seminary, any one of them could draw maps from memory of Israel’s expansions, contractions, foreign occupations, and re-establishment. They could name cities and sites where people in the Bible were born, went into battle, and were buried. They could mark where Jesus Christ was born, walked, taught, performed miracles, was crucified and rose again. They have preached and taught for decades about the Israelite prophets and patriarchs who God used as quills to record His word, what He has done in this land, the people He gave it to, and the covenants He made with them. But for nearly all of these pastors, this was the first time they had ever experienced Israel. Experiencing Israel firsthand had forever changed the way that they would think, preach and teach about Israel and the Jewish people.
Each time I visit Israel with a group of Christian pilgrims I see and experience this feeling of having one’s faith uplifted. From Golgotha to the Galilee the sights and sounds of Israel bring the scriptures to life. And though it takes different forms, at some point, every person who has joined me in Israel experienced a spiritual epiphany that remains with them for the rest of their lives. However on this trip, for me, it was my faith in humanity that was moved.
At Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, one is compelled to face the depths of human depravity. We are capable of immense evil. At Israel’s border with Lebanon, where Iranian backed terrorists stand just yards away from young Israeli soldiers, one is compelled to face the reality that such evil still exists today.
Given this history and the modern reality, one might forgive Israelis for any hostility towards strangers – but there is no need. In Israel, visitors of all faiths are welcomed with open arms. We can pray to God in any manner and any language that we see fit. It is nothing short of miraculous that the Jewish response to 2,000 years of persecution is to embrace religious pilgrims.
This exceptional Israeli attitude compelled me to reconsider the depth of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where he writes “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
In-spite of what our fathers did to the Jewish people, Israel loves the strangers in its midst.
On this visit to Israel, my epiphany was that while people are still capable of great sin, Israel’s embrace of Christian pilgrims shows us that human beings are still capable of greatness.
Love is the Jewish response to two millennia of hate. If that does not uplift one’s faith in mankind, I do not know what will.