As I write, I am looking over the Sea of Galilee. Nearby are the towns of Tiberias, Magdala and Capernaum. For the past week I have been in Israel filming about some of the events of Jesus’ life, for television.
I have been to this fascinating land many times before, but this time I have had privileges that are new to me. One of these was being alone in the Garden of Gethsemane when we were given permission to film late in the evening. As I sat there, I imagined that night before Jesus died when he must have seen the torches of the soldiers as they made their way up the hill. He said to his disciples, ‘my betrayer is at hand’ (Matthew 26:46, ESV).
We filmed the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of whom Jesus asked the strange question, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ But perhaps his question was not so strange. Perhaps the greatest temptation is to settle for that which is safe, instead of for the desire of our hearts. Bartimaeus could have requested enough money so he need never beg again but, no, the blind eyes of the beggar searched for the face of the young teacher and he said, ‘I want to see.’ (Mark 10:51). The first thing he saw was the face of Jesus.
As the trip nears its end, my mind goes to Sunday’s filming and a long, dusty road. We try to capture the events of that day after the crucifixion when two of Jesus’ disciples were walking to a small village called Emmaus, about eight miles outside Jerusalem. There is no longer walk than the one away from the grave of somebody you love, and from dreams that lie broken – but as the two made that walk, they were joined by a stranger. Later, they said that as he spoke with them it was as if their hearts burned within them.
When they finally reached the village, the stranger seemed as though he would have gone on. But in the words of the Authorised Version of the Bible, the two disciples said, ‘Abide with us: for…the day is far spent’ (Luke 24:29). It was this sentence that captured the imagination of a
Scottish clergyman, Henry Lyte (1793-1847), who wrote the hymn ‘Abide With Me’ three weeks before he died of tuberculosis.
The man agreed to stay with the two disciples, and later that evening they sat to eat together. And that’s when it happened: the disciples asked the stranger if he would bless the bread, and as he broke it – as they had seen him do so many times before – it was as if their eyes were opened. They saw him.
When we had finished filming and the crew was packing up, I ambled along the road – a question going over and over in my mind: ‘Was there a reason why Jesus seemed as if, perhaps, he wouldn’t stay with them? Why he would have gone on alone?’
The only answer I could find was the obvious one – that at the heart of every relationship is the need to know you are truly wanted. But find the answer or not, I couldn’t get that incident out of my mind, and later in the week it came back to me as I looked over Galilee again, this time on the eastern side – from the Golan Heights. The lake sat in a great bowl beneath me, but just a few miles in the other direction were the lights of Syria. A few nights before we had heard the sound of armaments and seen flashes in the sky. And as I thought on the challenges we face as nations, families and individuals, I felt an overwhelming need of his presence, and I caught myself whispering under my breath, ‘No, don’t go on – stay.’
‘Help of the helpless, O abide with me.’
Rob Parsons is founder and chairman of Care for the Family
Follow Rob @Rob_Parsons_
For details of the film, visit agapemedia.co
Illustration: Elisa Cunningham