Saturday, July 10, 2015
Today was all about the Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum and teaching his disciples.
We were on the bus after a quick and early breakfast, packed for a 3-day journey to the Sea of Galilee. Driver Abed drove east (as we had yesterday) into the Jordan River Valley, then headed north. The land was barren and desolate as we’d seen before.
We had to stop at an Israeli checkpoint to get back into Israel from the West Bank. Two Israeli guards approached the bus, checked Abed’s identification card and Rodney’s passport, asked a few questions of Rodney (What nationality we were, where we were going, where did we come from, etc.) and then walked through the bus. They were cordial but one had a rifle. Outside a few soldiers used mirrors to check under the bus. We were cleared and on our way.
Our road paralleled the Jordan River and the border with Jordan. At times it was a sparse landscape and yet there were also places of lush fertile ground with plantations of different fruits. As we drove along, we passed through the town of Bet She’an which is where scenes of the move Jesus Christ Superstar was filmed, and more specifically the scene where Judas committed suicide. I didn’t see any shrine to him!
After about an hour and half of diverse landscapes we approached the southern region of the Sea of Galilee. We drove up the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and you could see the topography change as we moved into the fertile valley of the Sea of Galilee, or the “land of milk and honey” as the Bible defines it. In fact, we passed a huge dirt mound shaped like a whale; it houses the remains an architect found of industrial beehives dating back to the 1st century. We crossed the Jordan Creek (oops, River) several times, becasue at times it was no wider than a creek. After that we could see the Sea of Galilee for the rest of the drive. We are close to the point where Israel, Jordan and Syria’s borders come together. We could see the Golan Heights across the lake on the north-eastern shores. The Golan Heights are a disputed strip of land that stretches south from Syria towards the shores of the Sea of Galilee. There were very interesting vistas … especially as we entered Tiberias, the largest city on the sea, with domes of antiquity adjacent to 5-story buildings, boats docked at yacht clubs and high-end cars in the parking lots. (It almost seemed as though someone changed the TV channel!) This region is a popular vacation and recreational area. It was a very quiet day, as far as traffic and crowds are concerned … because it was Shabbat, the Jewish holy day of prayer and rest. Secular Jews were out on the lake enjoying their weekend.
We were at our first destination by 10:30. We exited the bus for the Mensa Christi Church, the site of the rocks along the north-western shoreline of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus called Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, John and James (our patron saint). It is also the place that commemorates Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance where he made breakfast for the disciples. The original chapel was built in 4th century on top of the rocks and was rebuilt in the 1800s. Leader Rodney and Fr. Mike led us in reading associated scriptures from Luke and John while we stood on the very same shore as Jesus and the disciples had been. Then we had time to walk around, and Clark got up on the rocks to soak in the experience.
From there we went to the town Capernaum which is locally known as “The Town of Jesus.” This was the hub for Jesus during his Galilean ministry. We saw ruins dating to the 4th century of a synagogue which was likely one of the places where Jesus was preaching. It was purchased by the Franciscans, who built a monastery and a church in the town. In this compound are ruins of small residences and public buildings, as well as the residence of Simon Peter.
After leaving Capernaum we went a few miles north to the Mount of Beatitudes which is run by Italian Franciscan nuns. We had lunch at the Guest House of the Church of the Beatitudes, with choices of whole fish (head, bones, etc.) or chicken schnitzel; we all had spaghetti as a starter, assorted items to put on pita bread, and dates for desert. We then had time to view the magnificent grounds of the Mount of Beatitudes and a simple church set high atop the north-western edge of the Sea of Galilee. What a view! This is where Jesus preached to his disciples and thousands of Galilean followers. Of course the grounds are opulent and pristine today, not like what they would have been then, but we all enjoyed it … a huge difference from the wilderness yesterday!
Our next stop was at the Church of the Multiplication, the church commemorating Jesus’ miracle of using 2 fishes and 5 loaves of bread to feed thousands. Unfortunately, the church complex sustained damage due to arson in June, 2015; but they recently re-opened and we were able to enter this lovely church with its 4th Century mosaic floors.
Some of us are very tired after the sustained heat which continues here at the Sea of Galilee but with the added humidity. We were grateful to arrive at our accommodations at 3 pm. The Pilgerhaus is a German Benedictine pilgrim guesthouse with a to-die-for view of the lake and lovely buffet meals. Some rested while others went swimming before diner. Clark went swimming in the Sea of Galilee, but the rocky shore hurt his feet, so he went in with his shoes on. Afterwards, he went to the gift shop and bought glittered flip flops to wear while his shoes dried! After dinner we gathered at the large patio of Pilgerhaus enjoyed the cooler evening breezes. We could see a few lights at the Golan Heights, but looking south Tiberius was lit up like Tinsel Town!
Enough from me today. Until tomorrow … God bless.