DAY 5--THURSDAY, MARCH 30
Our next day began with a journey to ancient Sepphoris, the Zippori National Park. The large city near Jesus' hometown, where Mary's parents lived, was a very Roman and pagan city, a place of spiritual darkness even while religious activity is all around. This place was home to the rabbi who developed the Jewish Mishnah, Rabbi Judah Hanasi. His move to Zippori also brought with him the Sanhedrin, the highest institution in Jewish law. There are many significant locations at the site: an ancient water reservoir, a large agora (marketplace), a Crusader fortress, a mansion called the Dionysus House where a beautiful mosaic of a beautiful woman is preserved in the floor, often referred to as the "Mona Lisa of Zippori."
The most significant relevance though for this city is its relationship to the village of Nazareth. Just down the hill from that village, Sepphoris is the hub of activity and trade where Joseph and young Jesus would have spent time, found work, and experienced the life of the community. The cardo (main roadway) is a magnificently preserved street that Jesus likely walked many times. To learn more, go to http://www.parks.org.il/sites/English/ParksAndReserves/zippori/Pages/default.aspx.
From Sepphoris we made our way up to Nazareth, the town with the largest Arab population in Israel outside of Jerusalem. The strong Muslim presence does not prevent the local population from finding ways to capitalize on the birthplace of Jesus, though. The suggested home of young Mary, the mother of Jesus, is completely dominated by the Church of the Nativity, a beautiful structure that unfortunately overshadows the simple significance of Jesus' birth. We had a delightful tour through the Nazareth Experience, a well-done, historical walk through the significance of Jesus' birth, death and resurrection complete with empty tomb hewn from bedrock. While it is staged, the guide was delightful and skillfully wove the story of the good news about Jesus throughout the experience. As we learned later, our guide is from Russia, spent several years in the USA, was introduced to Jesus while there, and today participates in a small messianic Jewish community in Nazareth. Let's remember to lift these brothers and sisters in prayer as we consider the challenges of living our faith in the world. To learn more, go to http://www.nazarethvillage.com.
We did something really cool today, an adventure that is unlike any other study trip: we traveled by 4x4 to what is thought to be the ancient site of the village of Cana where Jesus performed His first recorded sign. The reason other tours don't consider this site is in part because it is not accessible by tour bus and thus unlikely to gain much traffic. In 2011 archaeologists worked the site, took aerial photos defining the city, and then abandoned the project.
If you were not aware, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of viable archaeological sites waiting to be unearthed that will remain dormant simply for lack of resources. The work that is being done is phenomenal, but it is only a fraction of what could be done. The original Cana site is one of those places that will likely continue to exist in anonymity. But our team made the trek, surveyed the site, and enjoyed the thrill of being tossed around inside an all-terrain vehicle (if you like that sort of thing!). To learn more, I hope to post a website here very soon.
WHAT DID OUR FATHER TEACH ME TODAY?
We were reminded today that Jesus lived among pagan people yet did not compromise or syncretize with pagan ideas that saturated His community. While spiritual confusion and darkness exist, Jesus shows us what it means that we become "the light of the world" just as He is the Light of the world (Matthew 5:14). Just as the moon revolves around our sun and reflects the intense light emanating from it, so we are called to be reflectors of the glory of Jesus. When we live among the darkness yet persist in reflecting His light and life, the shadows and corners cannot hide. I am not expected to live a life good enough to be like Jesus as much as I am called to be the lamp in which Jesus shines. May that be one way I measure my thoughts and actions each day.
Interestingly, from a young age I have chosen Matthew 5:16 as my life verse: "In the same way let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Lord, make it so.