Wednesday, May 25, 2011

(4) Holy Land

Following the sequence of Jesus' timeline I next found myself in
Capernaum. After being spurned in his home village of Nazareth,
Jesus moved to Capernaum--perhaps a town of 1,000 in his day,
located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Reportedly
he made his home here, using it as a central headquarters for his
ministry in Galilee.

The radius of Jesus' ministry, fanning out from Capernaum, was
at most 25-30 miles. All in walking distance. And it was at
Capernaum, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, that he found his
first group of disciples. Peter, Andrew, John (all fishermen) and
Matthew (a tax collector) hailed from Capernaum.

Upon arriving I was struck by the beauty of the place. Even if in
ruins today, it is a singularly pleasant spot full of palm trees,
majestic cyprus, gorgeous flowers, and other plants. And gazing
across the Sea of Galilee, there seemed a hovering fine mist that
made it all seem mystical. Of course I woke from this mini-dream
when it was pointed out that over across the water I was looking
at the Golan Heights, a place of contention, occupation, and war
in our own modern day.

Eventually I managed to break loose and go off by myself. So I
chose to go sit on the side benches of the ruined synagogue,
knowing that there was a very good probability that down below
was the spot where Jesus might have actually stood. Trying to
ponder the significance of this (at least for me), a helicopter came
and flew overhead. I felt like I was being attacked by some gigantic
locust. My quiet time destroyed, I went and visited St. Peter's house
that was later turned into a house-church. Scripture notes that it
was in this house that Jesus healed many of the sick and infirm.

In time I learned that most of the houses of ancient Capernaum
were small and poor, oft made out of the local basalt stone mixed
with other stone and mud. There were no hygienic facilities or
drainage. However, Capernaum was the juncture of some major
crossroads that linked Damascus and Caesarea Maritimia as
well as Tyre and Egypt. Caravans stopped at Capernaum for
resupplies of food and dried fish. Hence customs taxes were
collected at Capernaum from the travelers using these crossroads.

Of course this explains the presence of Matthew the Tax Collector.
It also explains the presence of a Roman military garrison quartered
on the outskirts of Capernaum. Scripture mentions the centurion
(who likely headed this garrison), in that he came to Jesus asking
help to heal his sick servant. Reportedly, too, this good Roman
centurion built the earliest synagogue for the people of Capernaum.
So once again we see Jesus upfront with the Romans.

And not far away I set sight upon the Mount of the Beatitudes
where I visited next. It proved to be the high point of my visit to
the Holy Land.

Not far from Capernaum there's a low-lying hill called Mt. Eremos.
And, traditionally, it has been picked by pilgrims to be the Mount of
the Beatitudes. Below the hill is an expansive plain that could
accommodate large crowds of people.

In Scripture there's no specific place mentioned where Jesus gave
his "Sermon on the Mount." Indeed, some scholars question where
such a sermon was ever presented in its entirety. Some have
considered that fragments of Jesus' sayings were later put together
in sermon form. Who is to say? Regardless, the message comes
through loud and clear!

Approaching the Mount of the Beatitudes I was constantly struck
by the beauty of the place. Like Capernaum, the area had palms
and cyprus as well as old gnarled trees and sea-pine type
evergreens. What caught my eye most were the fields and fields
of glorious wildflowers, sweeping down towards the Sea of Galilee.
It was like you could see forever!

Admittedly I'm prone to natural beauty--so I guess I thought in
these terms, thinking that if the Son of God came to this planet,
well he surely picked the right place to rest and be "at home."
Capernaum and the close-by environs off Mount Eremos, as well
as the Sea of Galilee, are just sumptuous. Their beauty fills the
mind and the eye and surely must make one tend towards the
finer elements of earth and spirit. Jesus certainly had good taste,
if you will.

I hated leaving this special place, but I had to head back to