By Rachel Leach
It’s 5:30 am. I have just dragged myself into a rickety VW van with 8 other half-asleep volunteers on our way to Magdala to dig at the archaeological excavation. It’s already about 85 degrees.
In 30 minutes I will be toting my buckets, pick, trowel, broom, and dustpan into the 2-meter by 2-meter room I have been digging for the past week. Though I am ashamed to admit it, it’s the last thing I want to do on this balmy summer day. I know that within the next hour of my life I will be drenched in sweat, no amount of water will quench my thirst, and my muscles will be burning from days upon days of bending, striking, sweeping, carrying.
Perhaps I would feel a bit more motivated if I were discovering exciting objects like the people digging in the rooms next to me – they have found bronze coins, evidence of a stove, fish pools, grinding stones… As for me I have found only mildly-significant pottery shards. I am beginning to seriously doubt my choice to come excavate at Magdala. What seemed so romantically exciting has turned out to be monotonous and taxing.
I decide to use the next 10 minutes of the car ride to take a short nap in hopes that a bit more sleep will lift my spirits.
As I am just drifting off to sleep, a thought crosses my mind that makes my eyes pop wide open: is Jesus watching me as I dig that room? As I slowly clean the walls and the floor, does Jesus up in heaven recognize the structure I am revealing? Might he have been on the street outside of the room I’m digging when he healed a blind person? Did he go to the market stall neighboring my room to buy some salted fish? Did he actually stand inside of the room I toil in all day long?
I think about going back to my hometown as a grown-up and seeing parks and streets that bring a rush of my warmest and happiest childhood memories flooding back. Does seeing Magdala uncovered layer by layer bring back memories to Jesus of the time he spent in Magdala? Do the newly visible walls of my little room fill his heart with warm thoughts of his public ministry, of his disciples from Magdala, of the undoubtedly countless encounters he had with Magdala’s inhabitants?
By the time 6:00 am rolls around I am in my room with my buckets, pick, trowel, broom, and dustpan just beginning to work up a sweat. Yet I realize that I have a bit more energy than usual. The doubts about having made the right choice to come excavate at Magdala have disappeared, and the lack of exciting discoveries won’t bother me today.
With each bucket of dirt I lug out of my little room, I can almost hear Jesus’ voice saying, “Oh yeah! I remember that room! That’s where I first met…” And this thought makes the heat and burning muscles feel like a privilege as I fill my dustpan with soil again…