The Sea of Galilee is not a sea. It’s actually a lake—I don’t really know why its gets “sea credit”—measuring only about thirteen miles long and 8 miles wide. I’ve read that a biker can pedal his way around in four to five hours—I hope to do that one day. But for the smallness of the area, this body of water and its surrounding communities played a massive role in the life and ministry of Jesus.
Today, we worked our way over this area.
As one more example of the vastness of history that is piled up in this land, I mention this: As our bus left Tiberias and headed north around the shoreline, we passed a park, within which one could see partially excavated ruins. The ruins? The ancient village of Migdal. Migdal literally means “tower”, but its name is more famous if you stretch your linguistics just a touch and consider the name of Mary Magdelene. See any connection between Migdal and Magdel? They’re one and the same, and this tiny site was once home to a tortured woman named Mary, who was rescued by the power and grace of Jesus. For all of the imagination and tradition that has surrounded this woman’s life, it was just a bit shocking to see her hometown as little more than a flash past the windows of our bus!
The north shore of the Sea of Galilee is covered by sites tied to Jesus’ ministry. Within walking distance, one finds the sites of former villages Tabgha, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Korazin. We visited the first two sites today.
Not surprisingly, churches and chapels cover a number of plots of land here where tradition holds that events took place. A few that we visited today included:
1) The Church of Peter’s Primacy, where it’s thought that the risen Jesus coached his fishing disciples to throw their nets out into the deep water. With nets bursting, their eyes were opened and Peter received the threefold call to care for Jesus’ sheep.
2) The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes has a mysterious name that surely needs paragraphs of explanation. All over Israel, you see knick-knacks, postcards, plates, posters, and more with the same mosaic-styled image. It’s a couple fish with a container of bread. And it’s tied to a story that involves those few items being shared among a crowd of five thousand, by the power of Jesus. That story is linked to the site of Tabgha, and this monastery is where this famous image has long been a part of the mosaic floor of what was once a 5th century Byzantine church.
3) The Church of the Beatitudes commemorates Jesus’ sharing of these profound sentences, while nearby lie two sites proposed as nominees for the “site of the Sermon on the Mount” award. This site appealed to our group, largely due to its exceptional gardens—a beautiful place to linger, for sure!
Alongside the churches, a few other sites made up the rest of our day:
1) Capernaum was “home base” for a good chunk of Jesus’ ministry. It was the scene of Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue, healing a demon-possessed man, and then Peter’s mother-in-law as well (Luke 4), along with being home (or very near to home) of a number of his disciples. Even today, significant ruins of a 4th century synagogue stand, with the synagogue that Jesus would have visited still beneath its floor. As well, the proposed site of Peter’s mother-in-law is marked with a spaceship-shaped prayer chapel suspended over top it to give pilgrims a peak right down into the place of the miracle.
2) The “Jesus Boat” Museum centres around a discovery made in 1986, when a mud-packed boat dating back to the first century was discovered by fisherman when the water level dropped. Significantly preserved by the mud’s coverage, the boat became the centre of significant efforts to preserve it, fuelling many imaginations with its place right in the days of Jesus. From here, we also hit the dock and boarded a small ship for a short cruise on the Sea of Galilee. A small enough body of water to see across, it doe trigger the imagination to look at the surrounding coastlines and think, “Man, Jesus surely saw the same horizons I’m seeing right now!” Bizarre.
3) In Jordan, we visited a proposed site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. Today, we visited a second such site, likely the more traditionally held spot to which pilgrims have flocked for centuries. Making it even more special, one of our group was baptized there today, having re-turned himself to God in recent years and deciding that this was the time and place to mark it. His wife was tickled, and our group was thrilled to share in this moment in his journey. It likely wasn’t the first time that this stretch of river had heard “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”, but we filled the air with our voices all the same.
Tomorrow marks our final day here—that is both conceivable and unbelievable at the same time! We’ll mark the end with a venture into Israel’s most northerly points, nearly reaching Lebanon’s border tomorrow. And then we’ll have mere hours to ready ourselves for an insanely timed bus to the airport in Tel Aviv for a VERY early morning check-in. By Monday night, I’ll be back home in the heart of the prairies and the arms of my girls—and that sounds wonderfully sweet to me!
Good night from the shore of Galiee’s “sea”.