We had a fascinating day in and around Bethlehem today. Of course, no day is off to a better start than with a solid breakfast like the one Tommy and I shared with Anwar, our host family dad. Mirvate, his wife, had prepared hard-boiled eggs, pita, hummus, cheeses, yogurt, olive oil, and thyme from their garden. I think I gained 5 pounds just from eating Mirvate’s cooking over the last 24 hours.
Our first stop was at the Herodium. King Herod (or Herod the Great) had constructed an enormous 7-story mountain-palace in the Bethlehem countryside that could be seen from anywhere. This name and this place might already be sounding familiar and it should – we were in fact sitting right in the middle of the Christmas story as our guide, Marlin, put it.
Marlin gave an outstanding lesson as we sat in the Herodium after listening to a reading of Luke 2. So many things to ponder but one thing directly connects with one aspect of the culture we’ve been experience in our host homes: hospitality.
Luke 2:20 says the shepherds who visited Mary and the baby had returned to their flocks. In this culture hospitality is such a big deal that the sole fact that they left means they had already found Joseph and Mary in good hands. They would have never left a couple by their lonesome after just having a baby. This is not the nativity picture we are accustomed to that have Mary and Joseph alone at the time of the birth of Jesus. The narrator of the story doesn’t include the information but the culture is another witness. Hospitality is too big a deal to leave a woman great with child alone in the stable. The first person to hold the Savior of the world as he is born most likely was a midwife! The social impact of this statement is huge.
But that’s our God – leveling playing fields, evening scores, rebalancing scales.
Yet so much here is still so, so unbalanced…
We visited Tent of Nations today and heard from Daoud Nassar, a Palestinian Christian, the incredible and outrageous things he and his family have undergone just to keep the property his family has legally owned since 1916 from being take over by the Israeli government. Daoud told us how several years ago the military destroyed hundreds of their apricot trees just two weeks before harvest. As a son and grandson of almond and walnut growers, this was sickening. More recently they had several acres of olive trees bulldozed in the middle of the night. All the while they have been in a court battle for 25 years and incurring injustice after injustice (13 land surveys out of their wallet, for instance). But, Daoud says, when something devastating happens we do something good the next day. This is how and why Tent of Nations exists.
On a broader scale they exist to educate people around the world when their visitors return home so that none can say “I didn’t know!” any longer. Daoud says, “Many tourists come to see the holy sites but forget the Holy Land has people. They move from stone to stone, perhaps trying to find Jesus but forgetting that the tomb is empty.” The Tent of Nations farm is a place for people to come meet “Living stones” in the land of the “dead stones” and to leave telling the stories of what you have seen. When asked how we can respond in our own contexts, Daoud advises, “Be peacemakers in your own communities.”
Again, so much to ponder and consider here. And much more to come. Tomorrow we go to Jerusalem and will have an opportunity to process much more of what we heard today, which also included a visit with a Rabbi from an Israeli settlement that pinballed us back in opposite directions after the afternoon with Daoud.
Shalom and salaam for now!