The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
Despite the scant biblical description, Via Dolorosa stretched to about a kilometer through Old Jerusalem marked by nine of the 14 Stations of the Cross. The main reason for a trip a la sainte terre – to walk where Jesus walked – took a literal meaning on this cobbled path that may or may not be the one Jesus trod as he carried the cross to Calvary. Like most sacred sites in the Holy Land, geographic accuracy took a backseat to the event commemorated. Traditionally, the Friday procession route had been taken by Christian pilgrims for centuries.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
A non-believer once argued with me, “How can you believe that Jesus is God? Man cannot be God!”
I countered, “Yes, man cannot be God. But God can be man.”
That was how I distilled the foundation of the Christian faith in 140 characters or less, a communicative length that millennials understood. The young man conceded with a seemingly enlightened smile. A couple of years later, I would walk the town where the divine was made flesh. The words I had sung in countless Christmas cantatas took on a geographic context.
Carrying his own cross, He went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).
Golgotha could not be found on Google Maps, only by guesswork. The Gospels provided not so much an address as clues. It was near, not in, the city. The name referred to a skull, not a place of skulls. Just north of Old Jerusalem, a rock face resembling a macabre cranium with pockmarks for eye sockets loomed over a road. Could this limestone cliff be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion? It was logically beside The Garden Tomb. And curiously behind a bus terminal. The site of the foundation of Christian faith shared space with parked buses? It was a stark reminder that the Holy Land was not in a Christian country.
But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.
That old chestnut about death and taxes applied even to Jesus. He died on the cross and paid his taxes from the bounty off the Sea of Galilee, not in that order. The money-bearing fish caught by Peter was traditionally thought to be tilapia; ergo, it was honored with the nickname St. Peter’s Fish. The species had thrived in the lake until recently when they had to be farmed.
We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
Even when I knew what to pray for. I had listed both thanksgiving and supplications on ripped paper prior to our visit to the Western Wall, Kotel in Hebrew, a place of prayer for both Jews and Christian pilgrims. Jewish people had always believed that divine presence resided at Mount Moriah upon which the Temple was built and eventually destroyed in 70 CE, the sole surviving section of which was this retaining wall. As God’s address, it had been considered the holiest site in Jerusalem.