Piety and high finance. Christian ecumenism and Middle Eastern tension. The Vatican and a Kentucky businessman meeting to fund a Holy-land venture. A ruined 1st-century Jerusalem synagogue excavated while laying the foundation of a 21st-century hundred-million dollar hotel complex. (Then its old coins and other relics captured, one imagines, under plexiglass cases in the behemoth’s gleaming lobby).
All of this and more surfaces in yesterday’s news story about the “Magdala Center,” coming soon to the Sea of Galilee.
I’m sorry, I just find the powerful gospel associations of the Holy Land creepily incongruous with accommodations that will undoubtedly prove both luxurious and unattainable to 99.99% of the world population–not to mention the crew of fishermen who once hung around the Messiah.
Key elements of the Magdala Center include its 122-room hotel, an ecumenical chapel, an International Center for Women’s Studies, four independent chapels for international pilgrims, and a $30 million multimedia center, which will provide an interactive experience for Christian believers. That will be added in a second phase, to be complete in 2014.
Most of all, you get the promise that the new center (which, yes, does involve funding from the Vatican as well as American capitalists) “will let a million worshipers from around the world trace the steps of Jesus each year.”
“You get immersed in the culture of the biblical moment,” said Father Kelly during a recent trip to the United States. “You’ll get wet, smell the lake, hear the rippling waves. You’ll see Jesus performing his ministry. It’s going to be a very powerful experience.”
You’ll see Jesus performing his ministry? What, in your hotel room? In the posh “multimedia center”? I thought foxes had holes, and birds their nests, but the son of man had no place to lay his head.
I can’t even imagine attending (or being comfortable attending) one of the American fundraising events described in the article:
In June, they’ll host a gala for all religious sects at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to celebrate the archaeological findings and raise funds for the project. Other major efforts are under way in New York City, Atlanta, Houston and Dallas, where volunteers who have visited Jerusalem have gathered to support the project.
What will the hundred-dollar-a-plate-noshing, champagne-sipping, impeccably dressed (and ecumenical!) movers and shakers at these events hear and say about this project? That it is a good investment “on earth at it is in heaven”? That just by building it, they’re going to usher in a new era of inter-religious dialogue (the article stops just short of claiming this very thing)? That this is the great answer to that time-honored question, “What would Jesus build?”
“Next year in Jerusalem,” perhaps. But I won’t be at the Magdala Center. It all just seems too immensely ironic.