Thursday, September 30, 2010

Second Lesson: The Nazareth Village

It's a simple lesson.

...about a simple life.

As the tiny group of us gathered in the area recreated as a first century home, our eyes were drawn to the little room. Everything about it, simplistic. Nothing there that couldn't be or wouldn't be used in everyday life.

But no television. No remote controls lying all over the place. No Wii. No overhead lighting or surround sound speakers. Not a single sofa setting with matching pillows. No fine art hanging on the walls...or family portraits...or proud displays of newborns in arms.

Just living.

So why were we drawn to it? I think I know. Because in spite of our comforts and guilty pleasures and in spite of our need to make our immediate world pretty...deep down we desire a different life. A simple life.

Have you ever heard someone say, "I can't hear God anymore. Wonder how they heard Him so much back in the Bible days."

Is it that God no longer speaks? No. But you see, it's easier to hear the whispers of God in the quiet than in the madness we call "everyday." Maybe that's why we work so hard to buy the "lake house" and the "mountain home" and the "beach condo." We need a place to get away. To find the quiet. We even tell our loved ones that what we like most about these 2nd homes is that they don't have cable for television, no satellite service, scarce cell phone coverage ... "I can barely get radio..."

Author and contemplative Robert Benson, who I admire with a vengeance, said to me many years ago, "Eva Marie, the only one who knows what God has whispered into your heart is you. But you won't hear him if you don't hush."

Those two sentences rocked me to the very fiber of my being. I have, since, learned to appreciate silence.

So, I dare you. Turn off the TV. Walk away from the cell phone. Find the simplest place in your part of the planet and sit quietly for a minute. Or a half hour. Try an hour (you probably won't make it...).

Okay. Now hush.

Do you hear Him?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Eye of the Needle/Nazareth Village

Today's Nazareth is a far cry from the little village Jesus grew up in. The city of Nazareth today is just that, a city.

Tucked away along one hillside, however, is an amazing stretch of land that, for years on end, was left untouched. Then a brain-child occurred. Take the land--complete with winepress and other natural elements of First Century Nazareth, and re-create the original.

I'd never been to TNV, though I'd certainly heard about it. Videos featuring my beloved Miriam had been made here, teaching others about the life Jesus knew. The every day. Even the mundane...which, to my way of thinking, isn't so mundane.

My journalistic comrades and I entered into TNV and into another world. One of the first things we noted was a door. A door within a door (see photo). But it turns out this is no ordinary door. According to our guide, this is the eye of the needle.

Doors opened inward. If a friend came to visit, no problem. But what if a visitor was not a friend at all? This left the homeowner defenseless. However, having a small door within a larger door, gave the homeowner a method of preparation. In order for the visitor to enter, they had to stoop. It's difficult to be pushy when you're all bent over.

We were fascinated by this door. A sudden understanding as to the words of Jesus:

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24)

A camel...stooping? There are those humps to deal with!

Have you ever watched a camel stand from a "kneeling" position? Once, while I was in Jerusalem, an acquaintance of Miriam's stood near the Mount of Olives Overlook with his camel. A ride was $2. When Miriam introduced me to her friend as a "true friend of Israel," the man wanted to give me a complimentary ride on "Kojak."

I wanted to ride the camel (but I also paid for it!) so I handed my camera to Kojak's owner (for the photo you see here) and then climbed on top of the kneeling animal. As Kojak stood, my mouth fell open (a moment Miriam caught on film. No doubt, she knew this was coming!). While the camel is somewhat graceful in the standing and sitting, he is without question ... awkward. Awkward grace. That's what he is!

Now, standing before the eye of the needle in TNV, I fully understand what Jesus is saying. I'm not so sure a camel can get through the eye of the needle.

So then why is it so difficult for a "rich man" to get into heaven?

I have rich friends and loved ones. Are they without hope? Can they not enter heaven?

No and yes. They are not without hope and they can enter heaven. Providing...

The problem with the rich young ruler was that he wasn't willing to let go of his possessions to follow Jesus, which Jesus knew and tested him with.

When this rich man came to Jesus, it was to ask, "What one thing must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Notice the words one thing and inherit.) Our very wise Jesus asked, "Why do you ask about one thing? Keep the commandments."

Now remember...there were a lot of laws to be kept but only ten had been set apart to be written in stone by the Finger of God (see Exodus 31:18). Ten. But Jesus only mentioned six:

1. do not murder
2. do not commit adultery
3. do not steal
4. do not give false testimony
5. honor your father and mother
6. love your neighbor as yourself

So why not all ten? What was so special about these six? Perhaps because, out of the ten, these six which deal with man-to-man (and/or woman-to-woman. I'm using man as in mankind). The other four deal with man-to-God.

1. have no other gods before Me
2. make no idols and worship them
3. keep God's name holy
4. keep the Sabbath holy

The rich man told Jesus straight up, "I keep all those![the six]" Oh, how excited he must have been. Not only was he rich on earth but he would also be inheriting eternal life. He really could have his cake and eat it too!

"But anything else," he wisely asked.

Well, here came the caveat. "Sell everything," Jesus said. "Give the money to the poor. Don't worry, you'll have treasures in heaven and--unhindered--you can follow me."

This now, was between the rich young man and God.

The Bible tells us that the young man went away sad. The price of following God was not as great as all his wealth. What a shame, what a stinkin' shame.

And so now Jesus makes his famous declaration about camels and needles (low doors).

In Nazareth Village, we have seen a life-lesson come to life.