Several weeks have passed since we returned home from our trip to Israel. The suitcases are stored away for the next adventure, I've readjusted from the time change, and I continue organizing my impressions, thoughts, and photos.
Many friends have asked about my favorite parts of the trip. I readily answer, "The Sea of Galilee, Magdala, the Mount of Beatitudes, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, Capernaum, and the Garden Tomb." Analyzing my list a bit, I've come to the conclusion that each of these places has two things in common. First, each is connected in some way with the life of Jesus. And second, none of them are obscured in any way by a church or religious shrine. Those sites preserve some sense of what it might have really looked like when Jesus was there.
Our guide pointed out another site in the distance, Mount Hermon. We didn't actually travel to it, although it was easily observable on a clear day. Forty miles north of the Sea of Galilee it towers majestically over all the surrounding landscape. Most Biblical scholars agree that Mount Hermon most likely marks the spot of the transfiguration of Jesus. You can read one account of the transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-9.
In the account, three of Jesus' disciples were with him on top of the mountain. They woke from a nap to discover Jesus' appearance had remarkably changed. He was radiant and shining brightly as the sun. Also he was talking with two others, who they identified as Moses and Elijah.
I try to imagine how the three disciples processed this scene, but I struggle. I believe they were baffled too.
And that's when Peter defaulted to his usual mode of operation - he said something stupid. "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah" (Matthew 17:4).
Peter wanted to build a shrine to commemorate the occasion!
The voice of Almighty God suddenly stopped Peter, reminding him that His son Jesus was standing right in front of him. "This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"
And, for centuries ever since, groups of people have wanted to build shrines to honor and remember a person or event. So many of the historical sites in the Holy Lands have been torn up by religious groups wanting to build a permanent shrine on the site.
At the very least, Peter has helped me to understand why people do what they do - why there are so many religious shrines obscuring the sites in the Holy Land. Human instinct is to preserve the site.
However, I want my ultimate focus, whether I'm home, in the Holy Lands, or anywhere else, to remain on God and His son, Jesus Christ.
I believe that's what God intended all along.