What is Truth? (Holy Land Pilgrimage, Dispatch 4)

Jesus had a hard time with Chorazin, and so did we. For Jesus, Chorazin was a city that refused to repent even after he had performed "mighty works" in its people's midst. For our group of pilgrims, Chorazin was a ruin that was hard to interpret. None of its buildings appeared to be from the first century, and the architecture of the synagogue suggested that it was not original to the site.

Bethsaida and Capernaum were equally difficult. Bethsaida, the hometown of Sts. Philip and Andrew, had first-century pavers on which Jesus likely walked, but also ruins from the era of King David that would have been lost by the time of Christ. Capernaum, the hometown of St. Peter, had an authentic first-century village, but the synagogue again seemed oversized and out-of-place.

The root of the problem is clear: When a 21st-century pilgrim enters a holy site, she stops to pray. When a Byzantine pilgrim or a Roman crusader - or even the mother of Emperor Constantine! - entered a holy site, he built a building to memorialize what had taken place there. Many generations, many buildings.

How are we supposed to make sense of all this? As Pilate famously asked: What is truth?

The truth of this land is that Jesus lived here and called his disciples here. The truth is that Jesus performed most of his miracles here and issued his most important teachings here. The truth is that faithful Christians have been coming here since our earliest days to pray and to wrestle with the great mysteries of God's unbounded love for the world. Whether we are standing on the exact place where Jesus stood, or touching the precise stone that Jesus touched, is not especially relevant.

It is late in the evening as I write this reflection, and I am looking out over the darkened Sea of Galilee. Tiberius glows in the distance, but here everything is quiet. Jesus once sat somewhere near here, looking at the same sea and the same stars and talking about a radical idea that he called the "Kingdom of God." Soldiers of the Byzantine and Crusader armies once encamped somewhere near here, seeking to establish a faith that could stretch around the world. Now, a parish priest from Memphis, Tennessee, prays here alongside nineteen of his parishioners who seek to be a part of what God will do in our time and in our place.

The ancient Jews lost their identity when the Great Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., but our pilgrims' faith grew stronger as we came to realize that the memory of Jesus was held in our hearts rather than in the ancient ruins. Our faith, our truth, is not dependent on bricks and mortar. We do not simply follow in the first-century footsteps of Jesus, but lay down new footsteps that lead us to the places he has called us to go.

Posted by The Reverend Sandy Webb at 9:41 AM
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