I’m listening to “Streets of Jerusalem,” by the Moshav Band as I write this. I can identify with the singer’s melancholy. He writes of having to leave his home in Jerusalem to come to America. Jerusalem may not be my current or former home, but these lyrics feel as though written for me too:
I walk the streets of Jerusalem. My head is bowed.
Can’t let you go . . . can’t let you go . . . can’t let you go, now.
You’re somewhere east of Eden.
I’m an exile myself.
Still it’s your touch I long for, more than anything else.
. . . Knowing that I have to let you go is the cruelest part.
I did many things in the land. I followed in the sandal steps of Messiah. I saw places he touched and I was touched in return. I imagined him there in many of the places. Some of them almost look the same as they did 2,000 years ago.
I walked up the steps to Caiphas’ house, the high priest who had Yeshua crucified. He walked up those same steps, with his arms bound and with soldiers prodding him painfully on. I stood in Caiphas’ basement, the likely place Yeshua spent the night before that fateful day when heaven and earth turned their eyes from him in disgust. I imagined the lonely despondency of that great night.
I prayed in the garden on the Mount of Olives that has to at least be near to the one Yeshua prayed in the night before his cruel treatment at the hands of men and his exposure to the wrath of God. My prayer was not as filled with apprehension as his must have been, but I could imagine it. I could see where the Antonia fortress once stood. He could see it as he prayed.
I recited Shema in the fifth century synagogue in Capernaum. It’s built on the foundations of the synagogue Yeshua once taught in. I looked down on a home in Capernaum thought to be Peter’s house. Jews and Messianic Jews lived together in Capernaum, perhaps in harmony for some time.
I spoke about faith to an archeologist who had a unique way of writing Yeshua off as an overrated political revolutionary. I pointed out a problem with that reductionist view of Yeshua: our sources for Yeshua’s life indicate that he believed his death would have a meaning. He said, “That stuff was added later by the church.” I told him that this theory simply wouldn’t do. Parables of the son of the king dying were too much a part of Yeshua’s teaching to ignore or imagine that they came from a later pen. In fact, some of those parables are so profound that I’d be in awe of any teacher who could write them. I can only imagine Yeshua doing so, since they have an edge that you rarely or never find in later church writings.
I saw the pavement stones where Roman soldiers would play games in the Praetorium. They played games with Yeshua. They played a game of “Hail the King” and even gambled for his clothes. Those soldiers were pretty used to mangling human bodies and witnessing torments that hell would shudder to hear. Their callousness is a contrast to Yeshua’s staggering humility when under the pressure of limitless pain: “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”
I went both to the Holy Sepulchre, where Yeshua likely died and rose, and to the Garden Tomb, a site which has been preserved and looks like the kind of hill he died on and tomb he rose from. I saw Christians from unknown places in the world kissing the stone where many say his body was laid. I could smell the myrrh, the fragrant oil poured there daily for hundreds of years by mourners still adoring the site of Yeshua’s agony and triumph.
I spoke to an old friend whose faith is waning. He sees these things so regularly they come to mean little to him. He is not in community with others who follow Yeshua’s footsteps. In the place of such extraordinary beauty and grace, he is becoming perhaps a doubter.
I walked the streets of Jerusalem. My head was bowed. I can’t let her go. Here Messiah walked and was rejected. Here he taught and many believed, but many others plotted his death. Here he admitted to being Messiah but overturned every expectation of what that meant.
He was the son of the vineyard owner. The vineyard owner sent him to the wicked tenants who kept killing his messengers. They weren’t giving the vineyard owner his rightful share in the proceeds. They thought to take the vineyard for themselves. It is the human way. “They will respect my son,” said the vineyard owner. But they didn’t. They killed him too. (cf. Matt 21:33-41).
He was the son of the king. The king threw a marriage feast for him. He invited all to come, but they would not come. So he sent out for the lame ones and the poor, and they came. They came both bad and good. The king walked among the guests and found some not wearing wedding garments. The king threw them out, saying, “Many are called, few are chosen.” (cf. Matt 22:2-14)
I don’t see how my new archeologist friend can be blind to what seems so obvious to me. He asked for some good scholarship to read on the New Testament and I shared some titles with him. Yeshua is written all over Jerusalem. I hope my old Israeli friend can see that too. His waning faith saddens me. Mine was increased, as it is every year when I visit this place.
I walked the streets of Jerusalem. My head is bowed. I can’t let her go.