After the day’s excursions in Galilee, I found myself coming to a rather obvious reflection—obvious to everyone but me, that is. Namely, that Jesus must have spent the greatest part of His ministry outdoors. Not in the conspiratorial confines of the Temple precincts, but out in the sweet fresh air, feeling the rush of wind and waves. Sitting in the shade and listening to the leaves rustle while unknown and unseen birds made their presence and music known. Watching the sun rise and set over the blue, clear waters of the Sea of Galilee. Trekking in the hot sun on long, patient journeys from one village to another throughout the province. And all along the way, while meeting and listening to people, at the same time feeling the press of the earth beneath His sandals and inhaling the redolent scent of fields and meadows.
Today we spent most of our time outside, too. And everyone seemed to love it. Right after breakfast, we boarded our bus and headed due north from Tiberius to the region of Capernaum. We stopped first at the small chapel of the Church of the Primacy of Peter, one of the numerous shrines in the Holy Land administered by the Franciscan order. We sat in a cool, shaded grove for Mass and read the post-Resurrection story of Peter’s encounter with the Lord on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius, aka the Sea of Galilee. (John 21:1-19): “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”…. “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”…. (Then), “feed my sheep.”…. (And, finally) “Follow me.”
The Primacy of Peter is the primacy of loving service. Jesus offers Peter neither a crown or a throne, but rather—a broom!— the primacy of a life of humble service to others His Name. The implications for us and for all leaders, both ecclesiastical and other, are evident. . . . After Eucharist, we took some time to go wading or just mill around the water’s edge, enjoying the mild breezes off the Sea.
Our next stop was only a couple of miles up the road in Capernaum. Jesus’ adult hometown and the geographical and cultural epicenter of His ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing. We sat on low benches under the trees before the home of Peter. From a Scriptural standpoint, the strategic importance of the village became immediately apparent. To our left were the ruins of the town’s synagogue (not the same building in which Jesus preached, but rather a later replacement). Behind the synagogue was the Via Maris, the Way of the Sea, a major Roman artery stretching from Damascus to Egypt. Capernaum was an important point for the collection of tolls and taxes. No wonder that Matthew (the Tax Collector!) should have been called to the Lord’s service here.
Directly in front of us lay a modern chapel literally suspended over the ruins of the house of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1: 21-34). And immediately to the right of the home lies the Sea of Galilee itself. Again, no stretch of the imagination to see how convenient it would have been for Jesus to meet and invite the members of the fishing firms of Peter & Andrew and James & John (Zebedee), Inc. to join him in His itinerant ministry. Seeing certainly helps the believing process.
Not content just to “hear” the story of the call of the first disciples of Jesus, we needed to understand for ourselves the importance of the sea in His ministry. A few miles outside of Capernaum, we boarded our very own excursion boat for a brief “cruise” on the Sea of Galilee. Our captain and crew hoisted the Stars & Stripes as we all stood to sing along with a recording of the national anthem (true). Then, we settled down for a presentation by Amer, our tour guide, on the importance of this particular Sea in the live of Jesus, followed by a brief reflection on the miracle of Jesus’ calming of the storm at sea (Matthew 8:23-27).
A sit-down lunch at Tanureen, a restaurant in the town of Magdala (as in Mary Magdalene!) run by a Christian family. Seated at long tables, we munched on olives, hummus, Greek salad, and blanched, marinated carrots while we waited for our entrée: Peter’s Fish. After a quick sip of complimentary coffee (laced with cardamom), we returned to our bus for a siesta ride through the orchard-studded countryside.
The final stop of a very long (but also very satisfying) day was a visit to yet another Caeserea—this time, Caeserea Philippi, perched against a rocky hillside in the Golan Heights. On the way a, our guide pointed out the border between Syria and Israel, as well as the frontier with Lebanon. The low, rusting fencing along fields and wildflowers proved deceptively innocuous. Small signs posted every few yards warned would-be trespassers of land mines in the area.
Among the ruins of Caeseara Philippi, we sat in the shade and reflected upon the Scriptural reading about Peter’s impassioned declaration of the identity of Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16). Our guide termed the event as Peter’s Bingo Moment— a lucky and utterly fortuitous guess about the person and persona of Jeus that, against all odds, proved to be exactly right.
Today was a day spent on the road, along the coast, in the shade, among the birds, bushes and wildflowers. Listening to the Word amid the signing of birds. It all gave one such an odd and oddly affirming sense about the connections between Scripture, faith and verifiable reality: It was all real; it all really happened. And it continues to “happen” in our own lives.