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Thursday, 21 March 2019 20:17

The Bedouin in the Desert

Written by Paige Mechling

A Lesson on Loving with the Heart of Christ. 

This fall, my husband Mark and I had the great blessing of going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the Home of the Mother.  The immensity of this gift will take me months to fully unwrap, and the conversion of heart that I experienced will, God willing, stay with me for a lifetime.  I was awestruck by so many things there, but what really touched my heart the most was recognizing the precious humanity of Jesus and the immense love that He has for each of us.  By experiencing this love in such a visceral way, walking in His footsteps, my eyes were opened to the depth of love that He is asking each of us to share with one another.  The Gospels are rife with examples of the love of Jesus.  In Bethany, Jesus wept for love of Lazarus before resurrecting him, and on the Mount of Olives He wept for love of Jerusalem before He offered Himself as a sacrifice for the fallen and broken, for the faithful and faithless.  He loved…always, and without conditions. 

On day 4 of our journey, we were driving through the Jericho desert enroute from Nazareth to Jerusalem.  We made a quick stop in a very remote area to take photos of an ancient monastery built into the face of a rock wall.  While walking up the stony incline, a  Bedouin beggar approached me with an array of flimsy scarves draped over his arm.  He began wrapping a scarf around my head, exclaiming, “Bella, bella!”  I waved my arms, laughing, and began unwrapping the scarf from my head, telling him that I had no interest in buying it. “Please,” he insisted, “Five dollars; Bedouin very poor.”  Mark, now half way up the hill, turned and beckoned me on, so I tossed the scarf back to the Bedouin and walked away, shrugging my shoulders.  I barely made it 10 steps when a second man with yet more scarves approached me, and we repeated the dance.  Wrapped head…”Bella, bella”…nervous laughter…walk away.  

Scarf-less, I finally reached the top of the hill with Mark, and we snapped some selfies before we made our way back to the bus.  The beggars were at the door of the bus working in vain to sell a scarf or two.  I boarded the bus, quickly slipping past, and being careful to avoid eye contact.  Within minutes of the bus pulling away, my heart began to feel heavy.  I thought about the two men we left on the dusty outcropping of rocks; I thought of their ragged clothes and their rotten teeth; I thought of how desperately poor they must be.  As I was mulling this over, I heard our guide tell us to look out of the windows on the right-hand side to see the Bedouin camp.  I sat in stunned silence as we slid past the squalor in which they made their home.  I was ashamed and crestfallen.  Five dollars.  What was five dollars to me?  I had spent twenty times that on just my traveling shoes, and we had spent thousands on the pilgrimage itself.  Five dollars is nothing to me, whereas for these poor men, it may have been the difference between feeding their children and not. 

Here I was in the Holy Land where I had in such a tangible way felt the love of Christ.  I had prayed in His mother’s house, and I had stood on the shores of the Sea of Galilee where He began calling His apostles. I had received Him in the Eucharist on the Mount of Beatitudes, and I had just that morning renewed my baptismal vows in the very spot where Our Lord was Himself baptized.  I had, by this point in our trip, literally spent hours in prayer contemplating His great love for me and begging Him to show me His precious face, and when He did, in the form of a poor Bedouin in the desert, I greeted Him with nervous laughter before walking away…twice!

I spent the rest of my week in the Holy Land contemplating this.  I feel that through this experience, this brief encounter on a dusty, barren hill in the desert, Jesus was showing me that I need to be love and mercy for others.  He was beseeching me to never let an opportunity to serve one of His “little ones” pass me by.  He was reminding me that each time I thoughtlessly turn my back on those in need, I am also turning my back on Him. How much can I say that I am living my baptismal vows when I fail to acknowledge the face of the Beloved in others?  

Jesus calls me, calls ALL of us, to recognize that He is not just in the Tabernacle waiting for us to receive Him.  He is in our priests and religious; He’s in our spouses and children; He’s in our friends and neighbors; He’s in the check-out clerk, the bank teller, and the man that cuts us off in traffic. Jesus is the poor, the homeless, the handicapped, the disenfranchised, and the imprisoned…and Jesus can even be found on a lonely hill in the midst of the vast Palestinian desert with a face that looks remarkably like a poor Bedouin beggar.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.  Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.

1 John 4:7-8