I have been to Israel 3 times. Each time I have enjoyed especially the visit to Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. This time Doris and I were amazed at the changes from our last visit 15 years ago. Then, the Nazareth Village was just a fledging idea. It is a plot of land, not very big, in the middle of Nazareth, where an authentic,1st century community was going to be recreated. The last time we were here that was basically a dirt hilltop with a few small sites, a shepherd dressed as he might have been in Jesus’s day, herding a few sheep into a makeshift pen, a young woman dressed like Mary, sitting by a small fire pit, kneading dough for baking.
This time the village is full grown into an amazing re-enactment of a day in the life af Nazareth about the time that Jesus was a young boy. We met Hannah, sitting in a tiny hut, making string from raw wool and weaving it into a beautiful shawl. We saw Ephraim tending the sheep flock, replete with the cutest, week old, perfect, spotless lambs. We even met an old, weathered carpenter named Joseph who was hewing a vessel out of a rough block of wood.
I was most moved by the visit to the olive press. Our guide showed us an authentic rebuilt 1st century, working press. The olives were gathered into large baskets, about the size of a bushel basket, but flexible, collapsible. They were poured out under a mill stone where a donkey was hooked to the stone. It walked round and round, turning the stone, and the olives were ground into a pulp. The pulp was then scooped up by hand and placed back in the baskets.
Here’s where they got me. The baskets of olive pulp were placed in an ingenious contraption, a stone trough, with a large beam, attached to a fulcrum, sitting over it. On one end of the beam is a large flat surface. In the middle of the beam are huge, heavy stones, situated in a way that the weight of them could be added to the beam as needed. The olive pulp was placed under the flat part of the beam, some weight added until the beam pressed down and the oil was squeezed from the pulp.
This first squeezing is the virgin oil, reserved for the priest and the synagogue. More weight was added and the pulp was pressed again. More oil. This second squeezing was for the family. This oil was perfect for cooking, for mixing with a perfume and anointing, anything the family wanted to do with oil. But, the pulp was always squeezed a third time. More weight added, the huge beam pressed down again until every last drop of worth and value was drained from the pulp. This oil was not as clean, by now it had bits of the olive pits in it, debris from the whole process. You might even say it was bloody. This oil was used to light the lamps, to keep the dark at bay in the homes and gathering places of these early, early people.
Our young guide was a really cool kid, an American Young Life worker from Virginia, that has been in Nazareth for 4 years, working with kids, as he said, “from the high school that Jesus went to.” He volunteers a couple of days a week at the Nazareth Village. His name was Zach. He explained the fascinating process of the olive press, The he asked almost innocently, “By the way do you remember the Hebrew word for olive press? Shemini. And the word for place. Gat. Do you remember the Garden you visited in Jerusalem, the “place of the olive press,” gat shemini, Gethsemane?” Wow!
Then it hit me. Three olive pressings. Each one getting deeper, heavier, until the olives bleed out their last bit of value. Three prayers of Our Lord in the Garden, each one getting deeper, heavier, until He sweat “great drops of blood,” and went back to His disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. I’m ready.” The visual of that gripped me until I wept there in the cold, little, stone hut that housed the olive press. Don’t you know that Jesus, as a young boy, Jon-Mical’s age, sat and watched that pressing process and somehow knew that He would end up in Gat Shemini, in the Garden?
i don’t know that I can add anything to that. As David Tal, our tour guide has said a lot, “Just let that sink in.” Doris and I love you. See you soon.