The Fifth Gospel

“Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and the one you will find in the land they call Holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you.” -St. Jerome (347-420 A.D.)


After ping-ponging across America for weeks with too-few and too-short breaks, the last thing I wanted to do was pack a suitcase, board another plane, and sleep in another hotel bed far from my own. But Becky needed this. I needed it more than I realized when we kissed the kids bye and backed out of the driveway.

I needed this trip – not to reconnect with my wife but to thicken the connection stretched thin across long distance phone calls from dressing rooms all over the place. To talk uninterrupted, sit in easy silence with the morning coffee, to hold hands exploring new streets and learning a new world together.


But ours wasn’t the only connection that deepened.

My understanding of Jesus began stretching on the plane ride from Newark to Tel-Aviv. Men with long curls dangling at their cheeks wore black suits and black hats. A man two rows up, his head covered by a yarmulke, rocked back and forth hunched over a small book and murmuring to himself. Flight attendants rolled up the aisles distributing kosher cuisine while the couple behind me conversed in Hebrew.


The Catholic saint Jerome called Israel the fifth gospel. In the faces of its people we glimpse his features. In its streets we hear his language. We walk through the maps we’ve carried around for years in the back of our bibles. We see ancient customs still lived out and previously innocuous words and phrases from scripture become significant.


“We’re on a plane going to Israel,” I explained to Becky. Just in case she’d forgotten how amazed I was since the last time I told her this about ten minutes before.

Her eyes widened as she nodded slowly and smiled. “I know.”

“Where Jesus lived,” I said.

“I know.”


An inflight movie and a few hours of sleep later we landed in Tel-Aviv. We held hands and walked to the beach as the sun slowly dove into the Mediterranean. Our first night in Israel.