Throughout this trip, one of the constant refrains has been how the Holy Land experience of has made brought the Bible to life. One person has said that it has made the Bible go from black and white words to colorful images.
None so more than Psalm 23 and Luke 10:25-37
When we think of Psalm 23 we are drawn to the image of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I think it is easy to take the image as a symbolic reference to life’s difficult trials and even death itself. We look to this Psalm for assurance at funerals and in struggles, and rightly so. I don’t believe, however, that we think of the Valley of the Shadow of Death as a real place.
Today, though, we visited the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It was a valley worth bemoaning as a source of life’s difficult trials. It is a rocky terrain with tight passage ways throughout the meandering hillside of the Judean desert. The structure of the hillside provides a great place to hide, especially for robbers and others who would have tried to kill someone passing through this valley.
This place is not just a symbolic place. It is a real place that would strike fear among any who attempt to pass its rocky formations. Even standing atop of a cliff was difficult as we took a look at the valley this afternoon.
From where we stood, we had a glimpse of the Mount of Temptation which is atop the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It was there where Jesus was tempted for 40 days after his baptism. The site is not far from the Jordan River and it would have served as a good hideaway as Jesus wrestled with his calling and brushed off attempts by Satan to distract the Lord from his purposes.
We also got a sense of how Jesus used this valley in his parables. It is likely the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) took place in this valley. The image of the Priest and Levite passing the wounded traveler is brought into a new light with the visit. Were they really ignoring the traveler or were they more concerned with their own self-protection that they ignored the needs of someone else?
It is a question worthy of reflection. I don’t think we can get by with just saying the Priest and Levite were more worried about the social standards of the day. I think this interpretation, now, leaves us a little short. If they passed the traveler because they were more concerned for themselves, I think it puts the acts of the priest and elders in a more damaging position. It suggests they were more concerned for their own welfare than the needs of others, especially someone who was hurting and in need. This is reflected in their own actions towards Jesus during the final Passover.
For all the danger found within the Valley of the Shadow of Death I also found some hope along those rocky cliffs. As I stood on the cliffs, of course taking photos, Bishop Fairley pointed out how you could see both the Mount of Temptations and Mount Bethany from where we stood. The place where Jesus was tempted for the first time and the place where he was arrested and betrayed is connected by the Valley of the Shadow of Death. One of my favorite photos I took on this trip is a panoramic picture of that very scene.
It is breathtaking when we contemplate the nature of that image. Jesus was willing to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death for us, but there is a victory of grace on the other side of the valley through the cross and the resurrection.
That is a powerful image that speaks volumes, I believe, to all of us. I know it spoke volumes to me.