February 5, 2020
We recently traveled for a day trip to a Biblical Nature Reserve, which is situated east of Tel Aviv. I had some casual familiarity with many biblical images since my youth, but I have never experienced or touched them. Allow me to retell my perspective of my favorite three.
Our group experienced up close what sheep and goats are like. These cute, docile, but occasionally stubborn animals are referenced in the crucial “Final Judgement” discourse of Matthew 25: “I will separate one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” The third-year seminarians underwent a seemingly simple exercise of leading these animals from one point of a field to another; however some difficulties arose. They seemed confused or just went in a different direction. One key lesson that I took away was the importance of giving clear signals, in other words, let the sheep and the goats know exactly what is being asked of them. This reminds me that I need to communicate effectively to succeed when I work with sheep, but likewise, in my relationships with people.
A second image was hyssop. From the cross, Jesus cried out, “I thirst” (Jn 19:28). I have also recently seen that phrase on the chapel wall of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity here in Israel. Biblically, Christ was offered a branch of hyssop with a sponge soaked in vinegar as he entered his final stage of suffering on the cross. Hyssop is a medicinal herb which originates from the same family as oregano. It is quite aromatic and serves to give flavoring, as well. This important Middle Eastern spice was given a brief, central role as our Savior was breathing his final breathes on earth.
The third image is water. We can easily take water for granted in the United States due to its’ convenience. We turn the tap and immediately have hot or cold water. However, in the land where Jesus walked, there are four “wet” months and eight “dry” months. Access to water during the dry period required significant effort. During Jesus’ life, water was a communal experience in which individuals would interact around a well. Water represented life.
I pray that we may be increasingly protective of our common home, the Earth, which has given us God’s gifts of animals (sheep and goats), hyssop, and water. Greetings and blessings to my family and friends, to all the seminarians and staff at Mundelein on this final day of January. I miss you all!
Archdiocese of Chicago