We passed through a security check and walked through the wooden tunnel construction towards the Temple Mount. Looking down I caught a glimpse of the Western Wall, where men and women prayed, men occupying the greater part, women crushed in behind a fence. Later we would see mothers standing on a bench straining to see over the divider, trying to catch a glimpse of their sons reading from the Torah on Bar Mitzvah day. I wondered at this exclusion, and why the separation of families was necessary at such a precious time.
As we walked beneath the gate and towards the old temple, now the Al-Aqsa mosque, two men ran towards us, shouting. It was a replay of my last visit here, and I thought I was prepared. Last time, as they ran at us, they shouted at the women in our group to cover our shoulders, while pointing at our elbows. We knew that when we visited holy sites, of any religion, we needed to be covered. Shoulders to knees, and occasionally a scarf for the head. But elbows? We were sent to purchase a scarf – a scam, another barrier to entering the temple – to cover our ‘shoulders’ (elbows).
This time, I had warned the women in our group to ensure they were covered – shoulders, necklines, elbows and knees. We all were thus attired. So why was he shouting now?
‘Shorts! No shorts!’
‘But these are capris not shorts! Our knees are covered!’
‘Go buy a scarf from my friend!’
Thankfully we had several scarves between us since he insisted we need to be covered to our wrists and ankles. Only the women of course. The men could let their elbows and ankles fly around wherever they wanted to, obviously less enticing to these men, and therefore less offensive.
This time, as last, I couldn’t help but marvel at how grateful I am every day for Jesus. In this place where religions sit so closely alongside each other, the distinctiveness of Jesus’ love and acceptance of women and men stands out as an invitation to freedom beyond human agendas. That body which so easily offended men was created, loved, and redeemed by Jesus. And I loved him in return more than ever before.
How dare we rebuild walls which he has torn down? In his own body, the dividing wall of hostility has been destroyed. May we never, ever, be found rebuilding the barriers he has overcome.
“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” Ephesians 2:14