Columnists > Voices

After Easter Sunday

The followers of Jesus would scatter but the power of His teaching remains

Issue: "Tick, tick, tick ...," May 7, 2011

Surely one of the most under-celebrated portions of the life of Jesus is the life He lived after the resurrection, when-as Acts 1 relates-"He presented Himself alive to them after His suffering by many proofs, appearing during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God."

As the Gospels make plain, during those post-Easter days Jesus interpreted all the Scripture (again) for His followers, and instructed them to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins everywhere, starting in Jerusalem. He asked that they love Him, and He promised to be with them always. Now tenets of our faith, this was then earth-shaking news. As John could only summarize, if everything that Jesus did could be written, the world itself could not contain the books.

It helps to know that Jesus spoke into no placid age. Times, politically and economically, were difficult then as they are now. The Jews were divided against one another and seduced by Greek influence and Roman occupation. The office of high priest had become an office for hire where the highest bidder took power under Roman auspices and did as he pleased. One built a gymnasium in Jerusalem where naked athletes took part in Greek sporting contests. Embarrassed by their circumcisions, the contestants "hid" them via some early form of plastic surgery.

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By Jesus' birth the Jews had split into militant factions-the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. And by the time the disciples wrote their four Gospels-decades after Jesus' ascension-the Romans had destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, and Christianity's most influential centers could no longer be found there but in Antioch, Corinth, Damascus, Ephesus, and Rome.

The dispersion makes all the more remarkable the stubbornly Christian makeup of tiny Ephraim, a city where Jesus withdrew after He raised Lazarus from the dead but before He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Today called Taybeh, it sits less than 20 miles north of Jerusalem in the Judean Wilderness and would likely be a suburb but for the security wall built to divide the West Bank from Israel proper. The last all-Christian town in the West Bank, it's caught between encroaching Israeli settlements and pressing Islamic movements but remains an enclave of budding industry: Craftmaking serves tourism trades, plus the growing Taybeh brewery (run by Palestinian Christians returned from the United States) shores up an otherwise oppressed economy. Over 10,000 Christian residents emigrated to Europe and the United States after the 1967 war, leaving a remnant of about 1,500 today who worship in Catholic and Orthodox churches. Across the courtyard of one Catholic church stands a home-occupied by a Christian family until 1974-that many residents claim can be dated to the time of Christ. It's built of cut stone on three levels, much as were pastoral homes 2,000 years ago. Locals have dubbed it the "house of parables," and for as long as most can remember it's served as a museum of sorts to recall the parables taught by Jesus. Schoolchildren cross its stone threshold, challenging one another to find the most parables inside.

Elias, a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem and our guide during my visit with Biola University professor Judith Rood, chimed in: "Here are the lamps, in the high place. Never light the lamp and put it on the low level, put it on the high level where everyone can see it." We found cracked and whole cisterns, old and new wineskins, old garments with new patches tearing away, millstones too heavy to lift, and a common ancient hand plow: "You would hold it like this," demonstrated Elias, "and if you look backwards, you will not know where you are going and you will not go straight."

In a region of uncertainty and turmoil, it is good to remember Taybeh. Its perpetual remnant of believers (back to the time of Lazarus' resurrection!) lends hope in an otherwise blighted landscape. Its house of parables ushers succeeding generations into the timeless reality of Jesus' earthly teaching, teaching so profound no factions, rebellions, wars, or diseases could halt its spread following His death, resurrection, and ascension.
Email Mindy Belz


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