Today we have to vacate our hotel for two nights. Although we are supposedly booked in here at Saint Margaret’s Hostel for the best part of four weeks they have a big group arriving today and need every available bed in the place to accommodate them all. Since things are done very much on a relational basis in Arab culture, and since the seminary want to keep their current good relationship with the people at Saint Margaret’s, it has been agreed that our party will move down to Villa Nazareth, a new guest house, just off the square by Mary’s Well and the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation. It looks very nice from the outside. We walked past it on Monday when May took us round some of the sacred and historical sites of Nazareth. Quite what it will be like on the inside we don’t know. Saint Margaret’s are footing the bill because we are helping them out by agreeing to move out for a couple of nights.
After breakfast Salim organises a taxi for us – Saint Margaret’s are paying for that as well. We are not taking all our stuff with us – just enough for the two nights – the rest is being stored somewhere at Saint Margaret’s. When the 10 seater taxi arrives we load all our stuff into the back of it and climb on board. I am sitting in the front seat next to the driver. It proves to be an interesting drive down into the centre of Nazareth as the taxi driver indulges in the usual illegal turns, reversing into busy traffic, talking on his mobile phone as he drives, stopping for a chat when he sees a friend, squeezing past cars and lorries that are parked where they shouldn’t be, and driving at speed down narrow back streets – all of which appear to be the lot of anyone brave enough to drive in Nazareth.
Eventually we are deposited outside the Villa Nazareth, where we are welcomed by a very nice young lady, who explains that our rooms are still being prepared as it is only 9.30 a.m. and normally new guests are not allowed in until after 3.00 p.m. We sit in a very comfortable lounge area for about 30 minutes and then we are shown to our rooms. They are luxurious. A nice king-sized double bed, a silent air conditioning unit, a great bathroom with a shower that doesn’t leak or needs the shower head to be held if you actually want to shower all over. We wonder what the food will be like? We wonder if we can stay here for the next three weeks or so?
After we have settled in we walk up to the seminary for our morning lecture. It is only a 10 minute walk or so and there is some nice Arab coffee waiting for us when we arrive. May is speaking to us this morning about the cultural differences between the Western and Arab worlds. It is very interesting, informative, and challenging. We learn a lot and I can’t help but feel that there is a lot to be said for the more relaxed approach to life espoused by the Arabs in contrast to the driven-ness of our Western world. After the lecture and discussion that it provokes we wander down into Nazareth to find some lunch before those of us who arrived on Sunday go to visit the supposed site of the precipice where the crowds attempted to throw Jesus from after his first recorded sermon (Luke 4:28,29).
May and Phil drive us up to the Precipice Site in two cars. It is impressive, and the views are amazing. We can see all over the surrounding area – a panoramic view of Nazareth itself, the Valley of Armageddon, and Mount Horeb. There are plaques in Hebrew, Arabic and English that all tell us that this is the site where Jesus escaped from his persecutors by jumping off the precipice?! We find this blatant misinterpretation of the story in Luke somewhat amusing and have visions of Jesus abseiling down the face of the precipice rather than simply walking through the crowds.
Phil drops us off at the roundabout by the Peace Mosque and we walk up through the market back to our new hotel. We want to visit the Site of the Ancient Synagogue where Jesus preached as a young man, and where he read from the Prophet Isaiah – ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me …’ and applied these words to himself (Luke 4:18,19) – which resulted in the congregation wanting to throw him over the precipice for committing blasphemy. Julia and I visited this place last time we came to Israel, and it is even better than we remember it. Julia reads the story from Luke 4 aloud … and then we just sit quietly and prayerfully and reflectively, recalling the fact that this story happened right here on this site 2,000 years or so ago.
We walk back through the market and arrive back at the Villa Nazareth in time to have a rest before dinner. What will dinner be like we wonder? Will it be as good as the rest of this hotel? We eat together as a group at a long table on the balcony restaurant in the open air … and dinner is great! We have the usual salads to start, plus plenty of fruit juice to drink, and the main course is chicken once again, but it is delicious. The group is beginning to gel nicely and we enjoy good conversation. We have coffee after the meal, before retiring for the night, and we are all agreed that we would have liked to have stayed here all the time! We guess that it is probably far more expensive than the cost of staying at Saint Margaret’s, however. We are glad that they are footing the bill and not us!