Day Five -
Mostly about 600 feet below sea level and bloomin’ ‘ot!
Today we both sailed on and circumnavigated ‘The Sea of Galilee’. We mingled with tourists. We visited the remains of the key sites of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and we shared in various engagements with related biblical texts, both through the able and thoughtful recounting by Andre, our Palestinian Christian guide from Nazareth, and in a late afternoon Bible study under the date palms by the edge of the same sea.
It was wonderful getting a sense of the physical setting of Jesus’ ministry (his core ministry triangle of Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida was much more compact than some of us had imagined – no bigger than many a 21st century URC pastorate).
Seeing the uncovered remains of Capernaum and Bethsaida was impressive and, when added to our earlier experience of the narrow streets of Hebron and Bethlehem, enabled us to imagine more vividly the in-town aspects of Jesus’ ministry. Our morning experiences of sailing on the sea from Tiberias to Magdala and walking down the hill from the Mount of Beatitudes to the shore at the Church of the loaves and fishes helped us to visualise the water bourn and out of town settings of much of what Jesus did and said.
What of today’s Israel / Palestine? We crossed the upper Jordan near Bethsaida and travelled down the eastern side of the sea, through the lands that from 1948 until 1967 were a part of Syria. We also experienced the prosperous but rather tacky feel of Tiberias, the largest, very Israeli, town on this inland sea and noticed the alarming shrinkage in the size of the sea due to years of reduced rainfall and increased consumption of water as modern Israel expands its population. Then we bumped into the world of the modern religious pilgrim – a world of air-conditioned coaches, car parks, manicured gardens, churches and invitations to share an equally-manicured religious world.
As one still struggling to make sense of our earlier experiences in Bethlehem and Hebron in the occupied West Bank, I could not commit to this safely-religious world. I have found in the text and now in the land the echoes of the presence of a Jesus who engaged with a politically challenging and often shocking world. I could not surrender him to a manicured world of religious tourism and personal pilgrimage – not when he seemed to challenge every complacency and injustice of this land in his own time.