I was awakened this morning by a tweeting sound and looked out the window to view the sunrise over the Sea of Galilee and the hills just around it.
I re-injured my ankle yesterday, twisting it in a rock crevice of the ancient bleachers on the south end of the Caesarea Hippodrome, where the chariot races were held 2000 years ago. I’ve made it a rule to only injure myself in good places or in the course of making a good story. So far I’m doing ok with that. Basically that means I try to avoid the “tripped over the sofa at home trying to get the remote” injuries. The rest I welcome. Sort of.
I’m looking forward to this day, given the amount of spiritual history I absorbed yesterday. The closer we come to Jerusalem, the more emotional it becomes for a pilgrim. I suppose this was true even for Mary and Joseph, and Christ Himself. Today we tour the stops of Christ and His apostles around the Sea of Galilee.
Pulling our bus up to the Sea of Galilee, we see big modern white fiberglass boats and we see older looking wooden boats. I hoped to board a wooden one, and we did just that. Except for two of our group – from another church. How they managed to board the wrong boat, obviously with people they had never seen, much less spent the last two days with, I don’t understand. There was no exchanging passengers once we were out on the water, even though this happens to be the one lake in the world known for people walking on its waters. We went out into the Sea far enough to see and appreciate the landscape around us.
This is where I gained my first understanding that aside from Christ’s trips to Jerusalem, His ministry focused on a very small area. First of all, Israel itself is very small, as I explained in the previous post, but secondly, between standing on the hill overlooking the Valley of Jezreel and floating in the Sea of Galilee, you can see most of the sites of the Bible. On one hand this is a little disillusioning, and on the other hand it fits. God never intended or designed His plan to be grandiose – only grand. Not impressive so much as overwhelming. He came in a fleshly baby instead of as a God; was born in a cave to poor people as opposed to in a princely palace; had a ministry of three years as opposed to 77 or hundreds; and kept Himself fairly local instead of traveling the world. The idea was to free the world from sin, not impress them.
One of the places of His ministry is the Mount of the Beatitudes. This man, wandering around Galilee, had gained fame from all over the middle east, to the point that people were coming to Him for learning but perhaps mostly physical healing (just like today – listen to prayer requests). One day He saw the great crowds gathering and went up onto the mountain, using it as a natural riser to speak to them. (Matt 4-5) We visited the spot today where for centuries people have claimed that happened. Obviously it was just a side of a mountain then, but the natural flora would have been similar.
One of the most offensive ironies I’ve heard in some time is the fact that Benito Mussolini built this beautiful ”Church of the Beatitudes’ on this hillside. He had each verse etched into the architecture. He even had the unmitigated gall to include “BEAL QUI PERSECUTIONEM PAIUNIR PROPER IUSTIAM QUIAM ISPSUM EST REGNUM CCELCUM” – Matt. 5:10 – Blessed are the Persecuted…
This, even though he put this on Jewish land he occupied by military strength to be able to survey the complete Sea of Galilee during wartime, while He was passing anti -semitic laws in Italy and allying with Hitler himself in his genocide efforts.
It really is disconcerting how some people use religion for political gain, even to this day. It is not a new tactic by any means, and people who practice this were the very people Christ scorned the strongest, calling them “vipers.”
From there we pilgrims made our way to the alleged spot where Jesus would have picked up His first couple of fisherman apostles. This is believed to be so because there has always been one particular spot for net fishing on the Capernaum side of the Sea, and it was close to the Sermon on the Mount spot, where according to Matthew, He went next. This is because there were, and are, warm springs in the waters of Capernaum which attract fish to that spot, and it is one of the few places where a channel runs in, which aided in cleaning nets. (Matt. 4:18 et seq)
Capernaum was next on the route, and this was the home of Peter and his family, as well as, to some degree, Jesus. (Mark 2) Now Capernaum has been excavated quite a bit, and archaeologists believe they have have found the home of Peter mentioned in the above stated Chapter of Mark. I’m skeptical, honestly, that this is the place, but it was in Capernaum, and even if this wasn’t the exact place, we saw the excavated site of Capernaum and got an idea of it what Peter’s house would have looked like. As is the custom, someone built an elaborate shrine above it to protect it, like Mary’s house in Nazareth. This is a photo looking down into it through a glass roof, from the paralytic’s view in chapter 2, you might say.
As a current events side note, it was about this time that our guide informed us that ISIS was reportedly camped about 5 miles on the other side of a visible mountain across the Sea of Galilee. Quite a distance still, but it served as a sobering reminder of the constant hostility and possible danger of this area. Our guide remembers missiles flying over this sea not too long ago. When Jesus was here, the whole place was occupied by ruthless Roman soldiers and rulers. On that point, we saw today a Roman mile marker as was suggested in Matthew 5:41:
And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles…
These were placed as mile markers on the Roman roads, and Jesus, foreshadowing the instructions of Romans 13, instructed His disciples to give the corrupt government even more than they require, rather than complaining, rebelling, or revolting. That’s hard to imagine for modern Americans or more so, other nationalities, but it was hard in occupied Israel as well.
We began the wrap up of our day with several of the pilgrims of our group being baptized in the Jordan River – not where Jesus was, necessarily, but in the same river nevertheless. I was not one of them. I have been baptized twice (see my earlier entries) and that should be enough. Mark Twain, in The Innocents Abroad, described baptism in the Jordan in 1867 as bathing in dirty water that leaves you with a stench worse than that with which you entered . The smell of the water wasn’t so strong today, but all those sins being constantly washed away from people raise some monstrous catfish. The smaller Jordan catfish are at least 2 feet long, while I personally saw some mama and daddy catfish that were closer to 3 or 7 feet long. They wait at the bottom of the stairs where people wade into to be relieved of the filthy grime on their souls, and those bottom dwellers obviously grow large and fat feasting on the weighty transgressions sinking to the bottom. I understand now why people make comparisons between them and lawyers.
Our final stop was my favorite, easily. The Valley of the Winds and the Doves. It just sounds good, doesn’t it? In modern times, we take an air-conditioned, wi-fi equipped bus on a highway from Nazareth to Magdala (home of Mary Magdalen) on the Sea of Galilee. In earlier times, Mr. Twain and his pilgrim friends traveled an ancient road by horseback from Magdala to Nazareth. He described its canyons and bandits’ hideouts in Chapters 49 and 50 of Innocents, and lightheartedly explained how the ISIS of the 1800’s was awaiting them there back then. He wasn’t attacked, and neither were we. The road he described, though, is the road we walked a portion of today – through the Valley of the Winds and the Doves. It is indeed some rough country, and this path remains an unpaved trail today as it was in Twain’s time and in Jesus’ time, and in Mary and Joseph’s time before that. This is the path that Mary and Joseph would have taken to begin their travel from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the birth; it is the path that Jesus would have taken to go from Nazareth to visit his friend Mary Magdalene, and to venture out and begin his ministry around the Sea of Galilee. The fact that Mark Twain traveled it certainly pales in comparison. Now I’ve kicked its rocks as well.
Mark Twain expressed today’s thoughts more eloquently than I can, so I thank him for a final thought for this day: