This morning was again devoted to study. It is important for me to point this out because some people seem to think that we’re just over here on vacation or something. So, here you can see that once again we are studying…very hard. After exhausting ourselves with studies this morning we had a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City this afternoon. The Old City is divided four ways between the Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Armenians. The various quarters each have their own appropriate attraction, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Christian Quarter, the Temple Mount in the Muslim Quarter, and the Wailing Wall in the Jewish Quarter. I’m sure the Armenians have something important too…I just can’t think of anything right now. They had good food anyway.
What would be a tour in the Holy Land without seeing some ruins? While in the Jewish quarter we saw the remains of what would have been Main Street Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. All Roman cities had such a street, called a “cardo” (“hinge” in Latin), with columns down both sides and shops. We saw one when we went to Sephoris previously. By far the most interesting thing was a visit to what is known as “The Burnt House”. These are the remains of a Jewish house that was burnt by the Romans when they destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD. They had a nice light and video show that dramatized the event.
Speaking of 70 AD, I guess I should mention for those that are unfamiliar that most of what is in the Old City today was not around at the time of Jesus. Jerusalem has been destroyed many times over the years. The temple that was destroyed in 70 was already the second temple because the first was destroyed centuries earlier. As Christians we can obviously see how it was never in God’s plan that the temple would be there forever. The sacrifices that used to be offered in the temple were perfected and brought to fulfillment in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. There was no need for a temple after the resurrection of Jesus as now his perfect sacrifice on Calvary is offered for us each time the Mass is celebrated. When you’re here in the Holy Land it really makes you realize just how significant it is that Christianity has never been tied to any particular piece of territory but was intended by Jesus to be everywhere, universal, catholic. The Holy Sepulcher is a special place, but if it were destroyed tomorrow it would matter nothing for our faith. The same is not true of the other faiths here.
While on our tour of the cardo we saw a gold menorah (Jewish candelabra) that was constructed by a group of Jews to exactly replicate the one that was used in the temple. However, they are not doing this for nostalgia. Each year this same group tries to lay the corner stone on the temple mount to rebuild the temple. They believe this will force the coming of the messiah which can only happen here in Jerusalem. They are systematically rebuilding all the implements that were used in the old temple so that they will be ready when the third temple is constructed. In the 16th century one of the gates to the temple mount (the one that you see in the pictures from the Mt. of Olives, called the Golden Gate) was bricked up by the sultan because it was prophesied that the messiah would enter Jerusalem through the Golden Gate. By bricking up they gate they figured they would prevent the messiah from coming. (Nota Benne: Guess which gate Jesus entered on Palm Sunday…they were a little late with the bricks!) Being here really makes you glad for our Christian faith that is truly universal. We have our holy places, but more importantly the whole world is now our holy place because it is there that we carry on the mission of Christ.