From there, it was at least an hour's drive to the Galilee area. We were headed to Jesus' "hood"! I was so excited!
Much of what we read about Jesus' ministry took place in the Capernaum area, not in Nazareth or Jerusalem. Nazareth is an inland town and is, for the most part, a modern city. There is a Church of the Annunciation. However, due to our schedule winding down (2 more days here), we had to forego a trip to Nazareth. Although Jesus grew up in Nazareth, His ministry did not have its focus there. You may recall that He read from Isaiah 61 in the Nazareth synagogue, introducing Himself as the Messiah to His own townspeople. (See Luke 4:16-21). Their reaction was swift and severe. They tried to kill him by throwing him off a cliff (vs. 29)! This intense rejection changed Jesus' trajectory of ministry to the Capernaum region.
Passing through Jericho, then heading north, we had the Jordanian border on our right, to the east. We made a quick stop at Yardenit, near where the Jordan River flows out of the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, a site which, after the Six-Day War, became established as the preferred baptismal site for pilgrims. Over 400,000 people visit it each year! (The one we visited earlier this week is the traditionally accepted site where Jesus was believed to be baptized and where local Christians choose to be baptized. However, from 1967 (Six Day War) through 2010, that site was in highly-disputed military territory, so that it was deemed unsafe.) The waters at the Yardenit site are much clearer and more inviting than the more traditional site near Jericho.
Coming into Galilee, we reached the largest city in the area, Tiberias. Shortly before getting to Tiberias, we had to pass through a military check-point. Tiberias and Galilee are predominantly Jewish areas. They checked our passports and everything (looked in the trunk and into the interior of the car), although we were still in Israel. Chris had worn his kefiyeh (Arab/Palestinian scarf), which Jiries suggested he take off, lol! So, of course, he did...
We made it through the check-point without incident and shortly saw the breathtakingly beautiful Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberias. This large town is near the smaller town of Capernaum. Our first stop was at a church called Church of the Multiplication (of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes). The Catholic Church believes to the best of its knowledge that this location is where the miracle called "feeding of the 5000" (and also the miracle of the 4000) occurred. This beautifully simple church complex was almost completely restored a couple of years ago. It was the victim of religion-based hatred and arson, so the story goes. Because of a massive fire, the windows were charred an amber color. During the rebuilding the marred windows were allowed to remain, as a reminder of what had occurred.
Next, we went to the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, where it is believed Jesus asked Peter the 3 questions of phileo and agape love. (See John 21:15-25.) To Roman Catholics these questions and this occasion are supremely important because they believe Jesus conferred the first papacy onto the Apostle Peter at that time. This religious complex was elaborate and the church highly ornate, with a large outcropping of stone in front of the altar, ostensibly where Peter and Jesus had that conversation of such tremendous magnitude. After touring the church, we walked down to the very rocky shore of the Sea, where Jiries picked up a "sea rock" for each of us to carry home.
For some reason (I guess biblical movies I've seen...) I thought the land leading to the water would be flat and sandy. No. The Sea is surrounded by hills, with a shoreline full of dark sand and volcanic rock boulders. The land across the Sea is the Golan Heights, which we did not attempt to enter. The Sea is large. You can see the other side, although today it was a somewhat shrouded in mist. Here is a wonderful thing about the Capernaum area, along the Sea of Galilee. It looks largely "untouched" by modern civilization. Much of the shoreline on both sides of the Sea is beautiful, soaring hills. There are no condos, no "McMansions".....you can still look at the land around you and the shoreline across the Sea and feel as though you are seeing it very much like Jesus saw it. Stunning!
There is another section of Capernaum along the Sea which has been preserved as "Jesus' town". It is an area that has been the site of much archeological digging. The ruins of many homes and an ancient synagogue can be seen. Plus, the Catholic Church has built a modern-style circular church over the ruins believed to be those of Peter's home. The church is up on "legs", so to speak, so that you can see the ruins underneath the church. The view from this church out onto the lake is spectacular.
The ruins of the synagogue look like something you would see in Rome. The architecture definitely shows Roman influences. Like the Western Wall (the Wailing Wall) people had stuck into the cracks of the ancient stones little slips of paper with prayers on them....
By this time, it was around 2:00. We were hungry! Jiries suggested we have a fish lunch, in keeping with the fishing theme of the day. We agreed it would be nearly "sacrilegious" to NOT eat fish on a day like today. We went to a fish-themed restaurant nearby called St. Peter's Restaurant. There was an extensive salad buffet (the Israelis really know how to do salad.....) and a choice of fish with bones or filleted fish or beef kabobs as our entree. Everything was magnificently delicious!! As dessert, the waitress brought us a tiny (about 2 oz.) of Turkish coffee and a plate of ripe dates.
Now, if you are like me and have had "dates in the States", you've probably had dried dates. These today were plump, fresh Medjool dates, with pits. We three (Jiries was amused) had an argument as to whether we should peel off the papery, brown skin of the date before eating it. I ate mine with skin on, but whatever.... (wait for it!) "floats your boat"! lol
Our next site to visit was the Church of the Beatitudes. I can't explain why, but this one touched me the most. I was hiding behind a pillar, swiping tears from my eyes. Inside a lovely garden is a magnificent church with Byzantine architectural influences, resting near the 4th century ruins of an earlier Byzantine church. Set on a hill, it is preceded by markers along the path, with each of 8 beatitudes featured, one per stone. The interior of the church is an octagon, with one beatitude written in Latin per face of the shape. The altar in the center had two sides so that, no matter where you sat, you could see very well. And, of course, it was so easy to look out over the water and imagine Jesus sitting there, teaching those folks (teaching US) how to live!
By then, it was on past mid-afternoon. We had to head back. We made one stop in downtown Tiberius, to get a cup of coffee for Jirius and me, and for Deb and Chris to check out the local McDonald's. They like to look at the menu at that chain wherever they travel in the world, just to experience the local differences. Coffee and McFlurries in hand, off we went, back to Jerusalem.
One of the conversation topics on the way home was Groundhog Day, which is tomorrow, Feb. 2nd. Jiries was unfamiliar with it, of course, as it is "the stupidest American holiday ever" (my sentiments). It was a hilarious conversation. One of the greatest things about this trip has been meeting Israelis, sharing with each other how we live, just ... you know ... everyday people, who have been unfailingly kind and generous, simply lovely.
What a day! Out of all of them, I felt today I most "walked where Jesus walked".
Oh, how good He is!
(Oceans, recorded by Hillsong, written by Houston, Crocker and Lighthelm)