The book of Ruth in the Bible tells us the moving story of an elderly Jewish mother and a young Arab woman who becomes the great-grandmother of King David. When David escapes the revolution of his son Absalom he flees to the land of his second cousins, the Moabites.
Ruth the Moabite, an Arab heathen, thus becomes an ancestor of Jesus. Together with her mother-in-law Naomi she crosses the River Jordan from Moab (in Jordan) to Israel. Probably at exactly the same spot where the following happened.
‘Mother Naomi and Ruth the Moabite’
The ford, or point of crossing at ‘Bethany, on the other side
of the Jordan, where John was baptizing’. (Joh.1:28)
A few years ago I had to be in Jerusalem for meetings at the Church Office. The trip is neither far nor difficult. From Salt you can see the towers on the Mount of Olives. But often it becomes an obstacle course. Leaving Salt at about seven in the morning you are at the Jordanian border at 7:30 am and you should be able to reach Jerusalem by 10:00 o’clock. But for that to happen the Jordanian border, where you get your passport stamped, should already be open; the bus to the Israeli side of the border be ready to depart; the bridge across the river where you present your papers once more, not be too busy. At the Israeli border checkpoint you again show your documents, and here it usually takes a long wait and a very careful luggage check. You just hope that the bus to Jerusalem has not yet departed. Near Jerusalem you again show your papers but then you are close. After arrival at the bus station all that is left is a nice walk through the familiar streets and past some familiar faces.
‘Shooting the breeze…’
…I have already arrived at the Israeli border and am waiting for a bus to Jerusalem. It is warm and humid – in summer the temperature can go as high as 50 degrees Celsius or more. Suddenly a man approaches and wants to know whether he can ask me a question. We are speaking Arabic and he is well dressed. In spite of the heat he sports a jacket and tie and I surmise that he may be a businessman from Palestine.
If you are asking me for a story or just shooting the breeze you will almost always get a positive response – as I love stories, so I say: ‘Yes, of course’. He looks around and then, out of the blue, sets off: “If ‘the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary, peace be upon him’ comes to you, what does that mean?” In his manner of speech and how he uses the name of Jesus I understand that he is a muslim. Christians tend to speak quite casually about ‘Jesus this’ and ‘Jesus that’ as though they are very familiar with each other. I really don’t like that very much as I would not talk about the King, ‘Abdullah this and Abdullah that’ either, as though we really knew each other well.
To be honest, sometimes it irritates me. It is almost as though in our modern democracies there is hardly a place left for some homage and respect. This muslim man spoke about Jesus, who came to visit him for heaven’s sake, as: ‘Our Lord Jesus the Messiah (the Christ – same word), the son of Miriam (Mary), peace be upon him!” Truly, I like that! And just in case somebody now wants to comment and say: ‘You see, he speaks of the Lord Jesus as the son of Mary and not as the son of God’, let me assure you that the Quran is absolutely clear that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary through the Spirit of God. It is even written that he is the logos, the ‘Word of God’.
But let’s keep it simple… The real question for me is: ‘What to answer?’ I dive straight in and ask him, ‘has this happened before?’ He answers, ‘Yes, a few times!’ Then I ask: ‘it would seem to me that you are a businessman…?’ I notice that he is a little taken aback thinking how I might know such a thing, but his answer is honest: ‘Yes indeed’. I continue: ‘… and business is good … you barely have time for yourself and for your family?’ Says he: ‘indeed, it’s a madhouse’. But now he is really beginning to feel jittery. You can almost hear him think: ‘How does he know these things? Could he be an intelligence agent?’ Of course it is nothing as complicated like that, and I say to him: ‘I think I know what your problem is! ‘How come?’ he asks?
Suddenly I know the answer, and I tell him: ‘I think that the Lord Jesus the Messiah, Son of Mary, Peace be upon him, would very much want to get to know you and would really appreciate visiting you. But you are so busy that you just don’t have the time! I think that the Lord Jesus the Messiah, Son of Mary, Peace be upon him, simply thought that a visit at night, in a dream, might actually work better. At night you are not so frightfully busy with work and you may be able to talk. Perhaps next time he comes you could take a little more time to say hello?” Says he again: “Do you really think so?” I respond that I really think this is his answer, for what else could it have been?
He walked away, but I still think about him sometimes, ‘the man in the suit’, and I pray for him. And a bit shy I sometimes add: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of Mary – peace…! When you have been to see him, would you afterwards come and visit me a little as well?
I know it is not necessary, but it would be so wonderful! Or is there a danger that I might become conceited? It would not surprise me one bit. So, ‘all right, Lord, perhaps later’. Amen
“Lord Jesus the Messiah, Son of Mary, Peace be upon him, simply thought that a visit at night, in a dream, might actually work better.”