How interesting that as I slowly sort through the large number of pictures I took in Israel, I read this blog about treking to the Jordan River. She and I saw different areas of the river (mainly because we promised our spouses that we would stay very safe and avoided most anything that involved crossing a checkpoint). The part she was wild and probably the area closest to where Jesus truly was baptized. The area I saw was very commercialized--sort of a Disney Land for Baptisms. And her reflections and my experience reminded me that if you go to Israel to "walk where Jesus walked," you might be disappointed. For the most part, the locations are debatable. Some good examples are the house of Simon the Tanner in Joppa--there were several sites claiming to be the house, the Virgin Mary has more than one tomb, and then there is the Church of the Holy Seplechure in the Old City of Jerusalem (let's nickname it "the Catholic site") and the Garden Tomb outside the city walls ("the Protestant site"). Furthermore, Israel has been defeated, destroyed and rebuilt so many times in the past 2000 years that often even when you are at THE SITE, the soil Jesus would have walked on is many feet below where you are standing. So what's the big deal?
First, one of the things that strikes me about all these sites (even those of dubious historicity) is that for hundreds or thousands of years people have been worshipping there. Lives have been changed because of the events that we remember and worship at those sites. And because of the prayers and worship of so many faithful people, the places have become sacred. THey have become holy (set apart)because we use them not to see the stone, the altar, the painting that stands there now but because through those things we come into the presence of the living Lord.
Secondly, I am a person of place. I think this is rather strange because I didn't grow up in a particular neighborhood or even a particular place and yet there are places that have meaning to me. For instance, I know when I cross the city limits into Dallas. I lived there less than six years and that was over 30 years ago and yet it feels like home. When I go to Laurel Land Cemetary in Oak Cliff, I know I'm among my family and I realize the value of cemetaries and the old fashioned traditions of decoration Sundays. The Biblical story is a story of a people defined by a place--the land of Israel--and when you walk in that place you can feel the holiness of that special place. It isn't particularly logical or provable--it just is. I love how Becky Garrison states it in her blog:
“Despite the debates over the exact place where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, the specific church that marks the spot where Gabriel brought to Mary the Good News that would change the world, and other historical critical snafus, I seemed to feel the presence of God’s saving grace throughout history every time I stepped on a piece of seemingly sacred soil. While New Atheists employ Greek gods, celestial teapots, and even vacuum cleaners to prove that God is but a figment of one’s feeble and overactive imagination, the recorded history etched into the fabric of the Holy Land clearly proves otherwise.”
Finally, if we want to walk where Jesus has walked we really don't have to walk very far. Since we worship a risen living Lord, his presence--his footprints--are all around us. And if we enter into a relationship with him and shape our lives by his example and teaching then maybe our footprints will also be his!