Working in Jerusalem
George is wobbling on top of a
ladder, splashing away with a worn-out paint-laden brush. Eileen's somewhere
below doing ditto, wishing her considerate husband of
42-years-and-never-a-cross-word would put more acrylic on the wall and less on
her. The Arab cleaning-lady is yelling (everybody yells in Israel) at us to
finish so she can mop the tiled floor. Dozens of elderly residents shuffle by
and get entangled with our dustsheets. And a visitor demands (in perfect
English, a wondrous sound to our Hebrew-sodden ears) to know why we've come to
work in Israel for a year.
Why indeed, we ask ourselves.
The first answer that springs to mind is 'anachnu
meshuggenah' -– we must be crazy. Masochistic, even.
Everyone is our boss, from the lawfully appointed Home
director (heart of gold, unflappable), through the echelons of middle management
(henna-haired Valkyries, guarding their little empires tooth and claw, each
claiming us as their exclusive property), down to kitchen and cleaning staff
(knife- wielding, plate-throwing, mop-toting terrorists, exploiting us
shamelessly and tugging at our heartstrings in one deft movement).
Yeah, we're stark raving. But there's more to it.
And let's get one little misconception out of the way. We're
not -– repeat, not -– do-gooders by inclination. There are always
needs. There's a verse worth tattooing on your biceps that goes 'The poor
you have with you always'. In other words, we can always do more, help more,
whatever. It's endless.
But it's different if God says.
Perhaps that's a clue? Let's keep pondering why we're
Because it's Israel. Because it's Jerusalem. People are
drawn to it.
And hence the attacks on it. It attracts Crusades and
Holocausts, Pogroms, Intifadas and Jihads. And attacks on the intellectual level
include Replacement Theology, Supercessionism, Triumphalism and Restorationism.
So what's different about the streams of Christian
volunteers who come here? Regardless of bullets and stomach upsets.
When in doubt, ask the Boss. We asked. And slowly He's been
getting through to us.
So, when the visitor (remember how all this started?)
questioned us as to why we were on ladders and bended knees painting portions of
Israel, our reply was as follows:
'To say thank you.'
'For giving us the Bible and Jesus.'
We're not insisting that Israelis accept that Christianity
is right. But we're saying that some breath-taking promises (which tend to be
overlooked or relegated to some future never-never-land) have been clearly and
overwhelmingly fulfilled in the past two millennia.
Being a light to the Gentiles, salvation to the ends of the
earth, so in Abraham, all the families of the earth shall be blessed and his
descendants be as the dust of the earth and stars of the heavens in number. For
'salvation is of the Jews'.
It's a matter of history that the Gentiles have eagerly
grabbed the message of Jesus and taken it to their hearts.
Sure, there have been any number of foul-ups on the way.
Satan has repeatedly tried to organise God out of His Church. But the Word of
God - in the person of Jesus and in the writings we call the Bible -– has kept
Gentile believers living out the life of Christ within them.
And even in the massive world-class battle between light and
darkness, not only have individuals, millions of them, found the Lord, but
western society -– against all odds -– has been modified by the light that
came from the Jews. Concepts of right and wrong, care of the sick and elderly,
even one day off work in seven, are directly traceable to the Torah.
And, hey, saying thanks a bundle for the Bible and Jesus sets
off quite a chain reaction here in the Middle East.
Sure, there are the knee-jerk don't-want-to-know brigade.
Christians haven't got an exclusive on that little failing. But there are a
significant number of Jews, observant Jews, Orthodox Jews, who say it's time
we talked to each other.
Look -– our old folks' home allowed us seven days'
holiday. Sort of parole for good conduct. So we took time out at Kibbutz Lavi,
up to the left of the Sea of Galilee. Near Kfar Khana (Cana) and Nazareth.
The kibbutz makes superb furniture for synagogues around the
world. Has a quality herd of Friesians that smell just like home.
It's an Orthodox kibbutz. Every last resident is an
observant Jew. Kippa-wearing, kosher-keeping, Shabbat-observing, Torah-savvy.
And -– wait for it -– they give lectures to teach
Christians and Jews to understand each other.
Wouldn't it rock you.
Dialogue. And we began to learn the what and why
of Judaism. Where Gentiles fit in. The fact that Judaism isn't an anachronism,
Hey, look -– there's a song you're going to need to
learn. We'll hum the tune quietly, but the title is fairly startling. Ready
'The song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the
(Revelation 15:3-4 for the Bereans out there.)
That's a strange linkage. Moses -– the servant of God
-– and the Lamb. This is end-time stuff, and Moses is still getting his name on
And little by little the puzzlement of all kinds of
Scriptures has started to change into simple sense. Promises -– many of them
unconditional promises -– that God's peculiar people were to stay different
and manifest that difference by special behaviour, special clothes, special diet
forever. To all generations. As long as the sun and moon keep going.
But didn't that all change at Pentecost?
No. Not for the Jews it didn't. Except that an awful lot of
what they had done as an historical reminder suddenly leapt into sharp focus as
pointing to what God had achieved in Jesus.
...which is why those Jewish believers didn't give a sigh
of relief and chuck all their Jewishness away. They continued to be Jews with
the new understanding of the deeper purpose of the Torah. In fact it was false
-– false! -– charges of going against Moses and the Torah that were
levelled at Stephen and Paul.
...which is why, when God suddenly sent the Holy Spirit upon
nasty, heathen, pork-eating, uncircumcised Gentiles, the Jewish believers went
into a flat spin.
Should they sharpen their little knives, give those ex-pagans
a crash course in Judaism, sell 'em cut-price tefillin and mezzuzot
or what? And they -– and the Holy Spirit -– concluded that the only rules for
Gentiles were to 'abstain from things offered to idols, blood, things
strangled, and from sexual immorality'.
Believing Jews and believing Gentiles were to live side by
side, one in the Lord, but distinct from each other.
That's what is meant by 'there is neither Jew nor Gentile
in Christ'. Doesn't mean there's no outward difference. (Hey -– it
also says there's neither male nor female, but, unless we've missed
something, we're still pretty enthusiastic about the old vive la difference.
At our age.)
Jews and Gentiles are starting to talk again. Especially as
each side discovers that Jews aren't required to join the Christian religion
as it has evolved over two thousand years, and Gentiles aren't required to
have the little operation, keep the 613 commandments, the Feasts, the whole
scene. But both lots can benefit -– are benefitting -– from learning,
discussing, agreeing even.
So when we're called away from our painting of a million
miles of corridors by some visitor for a chat in their resident relative's
little apartment, we accept the fruit juice, turkish coffee or (whisper it)
peach schnapps, and exchange pleasantries.
'Yes, Israel needs rain. New Zealand is a long way away.'
Then into serious discussion. With surprisingly little
disagreement. On what God said and did. Or says and does.
Perhaps, just perhaps, while top-level politicians among Jews
and Arabs stand off and glare at each other -– as they have done for a long
time -– perhaps grass-roots believing Jews and Gentiles can learn to talk. Ask
With no pressure to 'join us; we're right'. Let
everyone stay in the state in which he is called, like the Book says.
Living side by side in a God-given harmony. That would
be a genuine peace process.