November 10, 2010

Another Hill Far Away

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. . . . In him was life; and the life was the light of men. . . . And the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:1-5).*
These thin soles were not meant for cobblestones! What was I thinking? If the buses come before I get back I could be left behind! How will I ever find my group in Istanbul when I don’t even know what hotel they’ve booked?
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory . . .)” (John 1:14).
There’s the mosque! This must be the corner. I cut through the alfresco (outdoor) seating area of a restaurant, where two older men playing checkers look up, probably thinking: Just another American in a hurry. They don’t object to my trespass.
2010 1536 page22At the corner begins the long climb. In the stress of haste and the heat I am grateful for shade. A small church looms ahead on the right. Unfamiliar with the scale or layout of my destination, I wonder if this is it.
Approaching the door, I am disappointed to find it locked. But just then someone calls, beckoning me a little farther up the hill, and pointing across the street. Accustomed to confused tourists, the locals are waiting for me—waiting to change my currency; waiting to sell me a souvenir book; waiting, even, to shine my shoes.
The currency transaction with the eager shopkeeper is essential, it seems, because the gatekeeper across the street will take only Turkish lira. I buy my ticket from him, but he is preoccupied with his little boy, oblivious to what the next few minutes may mean to me.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Inside the gate the path continues to climb. I am really hot, really tired, but now I am really here! Here where for many centuries Christians have believed those words were written.
“He that hath the Son hath life” (1 John 5:12).
Ayasuluk. A hill crowning the modern town of Selcuk, Turkey, supports the ruins of a huge church built in the sixth century, destroyed by Tamerlane 900 years later. But I have not come for archaeology. On this hill the apostle John is believed to have spent his last days.
Looking southwest across the beautiful valley toward the ruins of Ephesus, even after nearly two millennia of development, it is easy to see why John chose this place to live and work, and why he asked to be laid to rest here.
This is where he came after the Patmos exile, finished with what he must have thought would be the most important work of his life, sharing the Revelation.
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
Here on this hill, surrounded by loving students and church members who never tired of his stories, he would reflect on seven decades of serving his Lord. What more was there left for him to do? Why had God delivered him from his island prison and allowed him to live so much longer than his contemporaries? What more might God want of him?
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1).
Paul’s letters of hope and encouragement, his exposition of grace, his triumphant narrative of the resurrection to come had all been sent out to the churches; and the good news of Jesus had gone to the Gentiles so effectively that the demographic of the church was very different in the last years of the century. Paul himself had been at rest for more than 30 years.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke had published their Gospels. The Spirit was stirring, even in places of persecution where Rome felt threatened. But maybe there was more to tell.
“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7).
So much of Jesus’ early ministry had yet to be shared. No one still living remembered that evening in Cana so long ago when Jesus had shown such tender regard for a young couple at risk of embarrassment in the midst of the biggest social event of their lives. Jesus loved weddings! He should tell.
What about Lazarus? Such sorrow! Such astonishment at grief suddenly cancelled!
“I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25, 26).
John knew the significance of Nicodemus’ nocturnal rendezvous. Surely Jesus had not meant the imagery of being “born again” for his ears only. “God so loved the world.” That must not be lost!
With the help of his friends John begins to tell his story in a way earlier Gospels had not, appealing to the Greek mind. He is the last one left who saw Jesus with the woman at the well, the last witness to Peter’s harrowing night on the lake. His are the last surviving memories of Thomas’s expressions of doubt, then belief. It will fall to him to record Jesus’ startling promise: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
As the afternoon recedes, a young couple snuggles on a retaining wall, a few tourists climb around the remaining artifacts. I can’t know what they are thinking.
“In my Father’s house are many mansions. . . . I go to prepare a place for you. . . . I will come again . . . that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2, 3).
I have lingered as long as I dare. My poor digital camera will never do this justice. How can I convey what I have felt here, what must have happened here on these few acres?
It is time to retreat. Past the gatekeeper and his little son, past the shopkeeper’s souvenirs, past the sad-looking man who still wants to shine my shoes. I wonder if they know the real John whose memory provides their livelihood. I wonder if they know John’s Jesus.
“And there are also many other things which Jesus did . . . which, if they should be written . . . , I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25).
*Bible texts in this article are from the King James Version.
Ray Minner is a high school teacher in Collegedale, Tennessee, U.S.A. This article was published November 11, 2010.