33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” [John 16:33b-37, NRSV]
Our guide for a twelve-day Holly Land pilgrimage from 24 November 2018 is an Arab-Christian, Mr. Murad Tony Tabar (self-named the “tall shepherd” and self-described as standing “6.7 feet above sea level”) . He is a qualified biblical archeologist and learned in the history of the Judeo-Christian religions, especially as these relate to the Holy Land.
On our arrival at Tel Aviv airport, Mr. Murad welcomed us with these words:
- “Welcome to the land of Canaan, the land of Jesus. Welcome home!”
At the first Mass the following morning in our hotel at Dead Sea, Jeff gave the following short reflection, an opener as it were for this pilgrimage journey. It was the feast day of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year.
We are in the homeland of Jesus, tracing his footsteps as we read the events from the Gospels, and looking at archeological sites that celebrate their significance for Christianity. Amidst the fascinating and even distracting present day sights and sounds, we must find time to travel inwards, attending to our spiritual journey which is the more important aspect of this Holy Land Pilgrimage. Just as the whatsapp message from a friend we received at KLIA at the start of this trip reads, we hope and pray for ‘a blessed and fruitful journey’.
Jesus first traveled around Galilee as an itinerant preacher for some three years, before he finally traveled up to Jerusalem where torture and death awaited him.
To come “home” to the land of Jesus is to come back to the origin of it all. That very idea compels me to return to basics. In addition, as if God has arranged it, today we celebrate Christ the King feast day. “How is Christ king of my life?”, is as basic a question for Christian living as it gets. So, at the start of this journey with Jesus, may I invite you to join me in keeping at the forefront of our consciousness three basic “what” questions: What is Christianity? What is Jesus Christ all about? And, what is the essence of the kingdom of God?
- First, what is Christianity?
Christianity is not about a set of church laws, a book of doctrines, a moral code, or a collection of liturgical rubrics, important as they are. Rather, Christianity is first and foremost a story and a practice.
- It is the story about this man called Jesus of Nazareth, his person, his teaching, his deeds, and his way of life as recorded in the Gospels and as handed down orally from generation to generation.
- The practice refers to the inspired way of life of the disciples of Jesus who accepted him as “Lord and Christ” and adopted as authoritative all that he stood for – his words and deeds – as “the way” for authentic Christian living.
- Second, what is Jesus all about?
Jesus, the Gospels attest in one voice, is all about the kingdom of God.
- The four Gospels are accounts of the unprecedented love of a God of surprises. Jesus, who makes that love of God present in his person, his life and his mission in teaching and serving, is all about the kingdom of God. The theology in all the Gospels consists in a focus on Jesus’ theology, and Jesus’ theology is kingdom of God theology. His life-mission is kingdom-mission. From start to finish, the whole of the Gospel tells of Jesus preaching God’s kingdom and living the kingdom-values from the time he emerged from the wilderness-temptation all the way to the cross.
- From there, the Gospels talk about how to be disciples of Christ. Who Christ is, and what it means to follow Christ, takes its framework from the kingdom of God. Disciples of Jesus Christ are called to embrace and practice God’s kingdom-way that has been recorded and amply presented in Jesus’ life and death, his teaching and action.
- When all is said and done, the Evangelists present as gospel (Good News) Jesus’ kingdom-way for discipleship. It is to seriously misrepresent Christianity and what Jesus is all about, by referring simply to some theory that says so long as you say you believe and are baptized, then your sins are forgiven and when you die you will be received into heaven. If that were true, there would be no basis for discipleship.
- A disciple is someone who is with Jesus learning how to be more like him. Discipleship is practice-based. Focusing on the gospel of the kingdom of God and Jesus’ invitation to live in that kingdom, the basis for discipleship becomes clear. The central message of Christianity is that the only thing that transforms us spiritually is the action of following Jesus the Christ. Hardship and sacrifice are inherent in Jesus’ kingdom-way, but to all who would follow his example in memory of him, promoting and advancing the kingdom of God on earth, the reward is eternal.
- Third, what is the essence of the Kingdom of God?
The key to Jesus’ kingdom-preaching and kingdom-living is the twofold commandment of love. It holds together two essential, interlinked, and distinguishable but inseparable dimensions, namely, [a] to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and [b] to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Together, they form one commandment – the first.
- This love flows from the inside where one is truly conscious of God’s love for all, to the outside where this love is carried into actions of loving service. These actions serve to unify people, particularly when they are carried out in solidarity with the Poor, the suffering, and the marginalized – the victims in a harsh world where oppressors and the powerful-but-indifferent dominate the weak.
In the land of Canaan, the homeland of Jesus, as we follow the footsteps of the Lord, we shall try to honour him as King by keeping ever conscious what he is all about – the promotion of the kingdom of God on earth, as in heaven, loving God with all our might, and loving others till it hurts.
Someone in the group asked: When people object to the reference to Israel as “the Holy Land” on account of the endless conflicts there, how might we respond? I suggest we might humbly point out that:
- This land is where Jesus my Lord and Saviour was born and in which he lived as his homeland. Here, he carried out his life mission of love and showed humanity a better way to live than to be forever locked in the misery of hatred, conflict and violence. His message is love, non-violence and peace, and care for the weak and the Poor. I shall forever honour this land that Jesus my Lord walked on as Holy Land, regardless of the ugly politics that we see and hear about that constantly mire humanity in humiliation, violence, and misery.
I wish you all a fruitful retreat journeying with the Lord and each other in this Holy Land. God bless us all.
Copyright © Dr. Jeffrey & Angie Goh, January 2019. All rights reserved.
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