As I sit here typing, the Muslim call to prayers is being sung in the minarets throughout Akko, and I think about those who are devoted to Allah, spreading their prayer rugs, standing, then bowing, then prostrating themselves toward Mecca, touching their foreheads to the ground in humility, saying “rabbanā laka al-ḥamd,” meaning “O Lord, all praise is for you.”
Just two days ago, we all dressed ourselves to come to the meal that opens Shabbat, and a rabbi prayed for us, “Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz,” Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has brought forth bread from the earth. On each of our plates was a small, beautiful loaf of bread, round and plump, soft on the inside, sweet on the outside. To me, it was like the bread from heaven.
And today, we explored the magnificently restored remains of the Crusader Fortress, the citadel of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, established in the name of Christ, for His sake, and for the sake of His people. All day I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a believer in Jesus and a follower of His way in this ancient city, so diverse in its spiritual background.
All the way back to three and maybe even four thousand years ago, the original inhabitants worshiped the gods of their day, yet showed welcome and hospitality to all who came here. Being an international trade center, they entertained visitors from all around the Mediterranean sea, seafarers, merchants, wealthy businessmen, nobility, tourists, dignitaries, and those looking for a better life. Phoenician gods, native to Akko, Assyrian gods, Babylonian gods, Egyptian gods, and YHWH Himself. Early on, the inhabitants of Akko learned to be gracious about their diversity.
It was a strange feeling, being within the fortress. These were my brothers and sisters in Christ, a thousand years ago. Did they show the same gracious welcome to the inhabitants of Akko, and the surrounding countryside? Were they, as our Savior said, “known by their love”?
It has brought home to me how simple our lives of faith really are to be. We are the love of God, His grace to every person, for we have His Spirit and we are living in the Age of Grace. All theology comes down to this, “‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,’” and “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
[Crusader Fortress Hall | Ricardo Tulio Gandelman from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]