“A journey becomes a pilgrimage as we discover, day by day, that the distance traveled is less important than the experience gained.”
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
John 18:36 NRSV
The Holy Family as Pilgrims
Joseph and Mary, Jesus’ parents, would make annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Let us look at a specific text from the Gospel of Luke that demonstrates the many costs of pilgrimage in this chapter:
So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve, they went to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem.
Jewish men were obligated to attend three feasts every year throughout the Gospels. Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were observed, albeit only Passover was strictly kept. Those who lived far from Jerusalem, particularly the poor, could not attend all feasts. On the other hand, women and children were permitted to participate in these feasts, and on Passover, everyone celebrated God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Pilgrims would stay for at least two days and occasionally longer.
Counting the Cost
The first expense of pilgrimage revealed by this verse is the time commitment required to be a pilgrim. According to the Gospel of Luke, Joseph and Mary traveled yearly to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. This suggests that going on the pilgrimage was not done on the spur of the moment. Before embarking on the voyage, one must arrange and organize one’s affairs at home.
The second expense of pilgrimage mentioned by the Gospel of Luke is time, which states that once they had completed the days and returned from Jerusalem, the boy Jesus remained behind. This statement of ‘days’ implies that pilgrims had to spend at least two days in Jerusalem, staying for the night before returning home the next day. Taking more than a day off from work would have had significant financial ramifications during a time when people were surviving daily.
Travel is the third cost of pilgrimage in the Gospel of Luke. The chapter explains that after the family had completed all the things needed by the Lord’s law, they returned from Jerusalem to their hometown of Nazareth in Galilee. Even today, the drive from Nazareth to Jerusalem is 91 miles (146 kilometers). Every pilgrimage would be a round trip, which would double the distance. This was a considerable voyage that was not taken lightly, requiring a significant investment of time and resources. Pilgrimages are always associated with long treks, and Biblical expeditions were no different.
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