The Day of Jesus
Today was the day that this trip to the Holy Land fully lived in to its intent: a pilgrimage.
From the time we left the hotel this morning, we were in the land of Jesus. You may know from your own reading of scripture that Christ spent about 75% of his ministry in the region of Galilee, and more specifically, along the coast of the Sea of Galilee in towns such as Capernaum.
It was here that our adventure began today. In this tiny seacoast village, we saw the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus did so much of his teaching. Two blocks down the beach lies what remains of the home of Peter’s mother-in-law, whom Jesus healed in Matthew 8:14-15. In deed, Capernaum was so central to Jesus’ ministry, that at the gates of the village is a sign that simply states: Capernaum, city of Jesus.
From there, we took the short drive (everything here is really close) to the Mount of the Beatitudes - the famous hill from which Jesus gave his sermon on the mount. There is a church there now, commemorating the site, which overlooks the beautifully lush Tabgha Valley. It is easy to see why Jesus liked to preach from these hillsides, as the surrounding mountains that lead to the lake create a natural echo chamber, helping to explain how it was that so many thousands of people could hear Jesus’ words.
On the other side of the Tabgha Valley lies the ancient road that Jesus walked on his journeys from the coast to Nazareth. We hiked the old road briefly, and it was easy to imagine myself walking with the crowds that followed him as he taught.
Farther down the shoreline, we encountered the city of Magdela, the hometown of Mary Magdalene. Today, you can still see the remnants of Mary’s home, along with another synagogue that Jesus likely frequented, as well as an ancient fish market, where the daily catch was packed in salt before being shipped to larger cities farther inland like Jerusalem.
After lunch, our crew took a boat ride out on the lake, learning about the geography and weather patterns that created the storms that continue to plague lake dwellers today. It was one of those storms that Jesus calmed for the disciples while they were out fishing (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, and Luke 8:22-25).
All of these sites and experiences were transformative, in that they paint the stories of our faith in living color, opening the pages of the Bible and placing us right in the midst of them. It was our stop at the Jordan River though, that, for me, renewed my spirit and re-awakened the wonder and mystery of faith. As I stood on the banks, awaiting my turn to plunge beneath the cold spring-fed waters that Jesus was baptized in, I felt an anticipation and excitement that reminded me of the day I felt my call to ministry. Watching dozens of pilgrims, whether being baptized for the first time or reaffirming what they already knew, was an experience of worship and praise as great as any I have ever experienced. Being lowered into that surprisingly cold river connected me with God, certainly, but also with the tens of thousands of people whose lives have been forever changed by that same experience.
The Holy Land has been full of surprises. Tomorrow, we travel to Tel Dan, Caesarea Philippi, Golan Heights and Bethsaida. I can’t wait to share what lies ahead! If you would like to take a sneak peak, I’m including a few scripture readings to give you a taste.
Joshua 19:47; Judges 18:27-31; Mark 5:1-20