Israel, Day 3: Sea of Galilee, Tabgha, and Capernaum

February 19, 2011

Today we mostly toured in and around Capernaum, the town in which Jesus did most of his ministry. This town became Jesus’ home when he was an adult. The home of Peter’s mother-in-law was here.

Our day began with a boat trip on the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is not actually a “sea”; it’s a big lake. It’s 8 miles wide and 13 miles long. Its maximum depth is about 150 feet. Now that I’ve ridden on the lake, I see that it’s big enough for menacing squalls to threaten the lives of fishermen.

Even our boat trip today, during very pleasant and sunny weather, was turbulent at times. I can only imagine what it’s like during a storm, such as the one that the disciples faced in Mark 4:35-40 and elsewhere.

We traveled by boat to a museum that houses the well-preserved remains of a fishing boat that dates back to the first century! The boat felt very small—and rickety, but it was, after all, 20 centuries old! It was likely the same kind of boat that Jesus and his disciples fished  and crossed the lake in. (Click to enlarge.)

In one sense, the Sea of Galilee is large, but in another it’s very small: What I mean is, these towns near or around the Sea of Galilee—Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Chorazin, and others—were in close proximity to one another. Jesus would have been very familiar with them. It’s no wonder that his fame spread quickly among the people living there—or that people from all over the region flocked to him.

I think the maps in Bibles distorted my mental image of the place. The Sea of Galilee always looked relatively large in the overall picture of Israel. But Israel is small, so that’s misleading.

I also appreciated how lush and verdant the region is. As we stood on the Mount of Beatitudes, a mountain near Capernaum where many believe that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, we had a dazzling view of this place that Jesus clearly loved and called home. This surely was a land overflowing with milk and honey!

By contrast, for some reason, I pictured Galilee as being rugged and sparsely vegetated, like a desert. It’s not at all—but judge for yourself. (Click to enlarge.)

Mt. of Beatitudes, near Capernaum, Jesus' home as an adult

When we visited the church that is said to be on the site of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, I took this picture of a mill used for pressing olive oil. That wheel on top of that table is a millstone. From now on, I’ll know what Jesus was picturing when he spoke those harsh words of judgment in Mark 9:42 and elsewhere.

So that's what a millstone looks like!

In the video, you’ll see a waterfall and a pond that many of us waded in. It was at the bottom of the Mount of Beatitudes. As you can see—I hope—this was one of those small, unplanned moments that make traveling so rewarding at times.

My friend and fellow Georgia Tech alum Eric Fessler

We went to the Jordan River, which—as I had been warned—was unimpressive.  It was green with algae—and hardly deep or wide. But as Bishop Watson pointed out, in a land in which water is scarce, this modest river is a lifeline. At least we avoided the commercial part of the river where many go to be baptized or (perish the thought, my fellow Methodists!) re-baptized. Instead, we pulled off to the shoulder of a road that had a path down to the river.

There, Bishop Watson presided over a reaffirmation of our baptismal covenant—as I’ve done several times in Vinebranch. He had us dip our hand in the water of the Jordan, make the sign of the cross on a partner’s forehead, and say, “Remember your baptism and be thankful. The Holy Spirit work within you, that being born of water and Spirit, you will continue to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Tomorrow we head south to Jerusalem. We’ll be stationed there for the next several days.

2 Responses to “Israel, Day 3: Sea of Galilee, Tabgha, and Capernaum”

  1. Helen Simmons Says:

    Brent,
    Thanks so much for this great blog. I don’t feel like I’m missing out as much by not being there with John and all of you. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s post!
    Shalom,
    Helen


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