The land of Galilee was nothing like I expected it to be. In the past, when I read accounts of Jesus teaching the multitudes and feeding the 5000, I visualized them sitting on grassy slopes. In reality, the rugged hillsides of Galilee are strewn with boulders of black volcanic basalt and I suspect that some of Jesus’ listeners chose to sit on rocks instead of on the ground.
Today, a Catholic monastery surrounded by beautiful grounds is located on the Mount of Beatitudes where Christ delivered his Sermon on the Mount. After a short devotional in the gardens and singing Amazing Grace in the chapel where the acoustics were fabulous, we were sent off to read the sermon on our own. The storm that had been following us ever since our morning boat ride on the Sea of Galilee caught up to us about that time, however, and it was difficult to find a sheltered spot to do our assigned reading. The pages in that part of our travel Bible will probably be forever wrinkled, a reminder of standing in the wind and rain while we read Matthew 5:1-16!
Fortunately, the rain didn’t last long and by the time we reached our next stop at Kurzi, which has been identified as the site where Jesus cast a legion of demons into a herd of swine (Mark 5:1-13), it had stopped. After investigating the remains of the oldest Byzantine church in Israel, we climbed the hillside to the probable location of the tombs mentioned in scripture. Looking down, it was hard to imagine the herd of pigs plunging into the lake and drowning because the water is actually quite a long way off. Remains of wharves have been found at the bottom of the hill, however, where bananas are now cultivated. Clearly the Sea of Galilee was significantly larger in Jesus’ day.
This is actually a major concern for Israel today as the Sea of Galilee is the country’s largest fresh water reservoir. Many years of below average rainfall have caused the water level to drop significantly as water is drawn from the lake for irrigation and other uses at a rate faster than it is replenished by nature.
Continuing on around the north end of the lake, we came to the recent excavation of the ancient city of Bethsaida where we walked on a stretch of cobblestone highway some 3000 years old!
Our last stop of the day was Capernaum which was the centre of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. Here we saw the remnants of a beautiful 4th century synagogue that was built over the remains of the synagogue of Jesus’ day. Surrounding it were the remains of houses and other buildings. It is believed that the home of the apostle Peter, where Jesus is known to have spent a lot of time, lies beneath one of these.
As we returned to our hotel in Tiberias, I felt privileged to have walked so many of the places where our Lord walked, but I also realized that Jesus was not particularly concerned about the places, but about the people who inhabited them. It was a blessing to walk where He walked physically, but how much more we need to walk as He walked spiritually, in humility and obedience, bringing salt and light to a lost and hurting world. (Matthew 5:13-16)