By the Sea of Galilee

Posted: December 10, 2006 in faith, Israel

Everywhere we go I notice that we get funny looks and I always assumed it was due to Rafa having long hair but I am rethinking that. I think it’s because Rafa looks like the traditional accepted image of Jesus and naturally him being in Jerusalem, people definitely do a double take.

Today we went to the northern part of Israel, more specifically to the Sea of Galilee region, via the city of Tiberias. Tiberias is right on the shore of the sea. The trip took about 3 hours.Along the way we drove past a number of walled in areas like Bethlehem, so we must have been driving along the border of the West Bank. Passing many towns I saw mosque minarets but did not notice any churches or synagogues, so it must have been Palestinian territory. We passed Nablus, Jenin, Nazareth, Mt. Tabor, Haifa and Megiddo. The land progressively grew more fertile the further north we went and we started ascending the hills again. It actually reminded me of the northern California/Oregon area a little. We slid around a curve of a hill and there before us down the mountainside was the Sea of Galilee at the bottom of the valley. This area is important in Christianity because this is where Jesus started his work, and to be frank, this is where I had my spiritual experience while on this journey.

The bus slowly wound its way down the hillside and descended upon Tiberias. We got off at the central bus station without knowing where to go so we just went down towards the water. We got down to the promenade that goes along the shore and we just relaxed a little bit looking at the water. The weather was perfect, the water looked inviting, and the surrounding area was gorgeous. We watched a small rickety old two man fishing boat sputter up not too far from us and the two fishermen began pulling up a net. It was surreal to me, because that’s the exact same way the apostles, who were fishermen by vocation, fished. Rafa and I watched them for awhile as they pulled this incredibly long net up from the sea, pulling the fish out of it and tossing them at the bottom of theboat. We decided to walk along the shore for a bit more and chatted with a young teenage Hassidic kid from LA who was here now proselytizing. We asked him what the yarmulke meant and he said that it reminds them that God is always above them. And that the sideburns and wide brimmed hats were so that in older times the Jews could physically separate themselves from the locals and be able to recognize other Jews better. It was mid afternoon now and we wanted to go up the coast to the Mount of Beatitudes and maybe hit Capernaum so we jumped a bus going north.

The bus took us up a hill overlooking the sea, and let us off not too far from a town called Tabgha. The driver pointed us to a point on the hill about a mile or so away where the Mt. Beatitudes Church was. We walked from there and it was pure pleasure. The hills were green and rolling, not rocky and coarse like in Jerusalem. There was a field of banana trees on our right and just empty land on our left. All you could hear was a slight breeze, hardly any cars on the road behind us and none on the road we were walking on.

As we approached the Mt. I noticed on the side of the road these large thornbushes. They were basically long skinny branches with these long thorns every few inches. It struck me when I saw them that these thorn branches look exactly like the ones in the images of Christ with the crown of thorns. All one would have to do is cut a branch off, roll it up and you would have yourself a crown. I asked Rafa if he wanted to try it. He declined. I had never seen this kind of thornbush before.

We arrived at the Church which was on the downslope but was placed perfectly overlooking the entire sea and general region of Galilee. This site is said to be both the site of the feeding of the 5000 and where Jesus gave the Beatitudes. The Church was very small, beautiful in a quaint way. Nothing fancy, just a small church. Outside the church is a garden and observation area overlooking the sea. I felt a great sense of peace here as I watched the sun going down over the hills on the other side of the sea. I looked down towards the shore and wondered if that could where Christ first called to the fishermen who would become his disciples. I thought about the things that happened here, what they represent and what they ultimately mean to me. I felt humbled, peaceful and settled within myself and yet also a sense sadness. I was alone at this point and spent some time talking to God.

The sun was quickly setting and and the church was closing soon so Rafa and I started trekking back to the main road to catch the bus back to Tiberias. When we got to the main road we saw the bus coming around the turn so we ran to catch it. Just in time.

It was dark when we arrived back in Tiberias and I wanted to swing by the shore one more time before leaving. Walking down to the promenade again we heard this continuous ringing of an old bell, and it was coming from the shore area, so we went down to find the source. Through an old stone wall we looked and saw an older lady pulling the rope that rang the bell. She wouldn’t stop ringing it so I went in and asked her why she was ringing it, and she replied in a Scottish accent that it’s the bell letting people in the are know that service was going to begin soon. I asked her how long she had to ring it and she said for 15 minutes. She invited us in for the service. We were at the Church of Scotland in Galilee and she was the pastor. It was Sunday evening and I wanted to share in the service so we went in. She presided over myself, Rafa and 3 other people from different parts of the world. The service was traditional with old hymns and all. The subject matter was Advent and she asked us to think about the places that are most important to us and the people in them. I thought about home, my wife, my family and friends and missed them. In closing the service she prayed for peace, for our leaders that they rule with peace as a goal and for the healing of the world and relations between people. It was a beautiful service and I felt blessed to have been able to share in it. To share faith and prayer with people who I don’t know from other parts of the world, is something special and to me it represents what we as humanity need more of. Coming together in peace and unity regardless of race or religion.

After service I asked the pastor Jane how many people she gets each sunday. She said it was mostly visitors like us and that it could be as few as 1 or as many as 10. She has been in Galilee for almost 2 years now and feels blessed to be here. The Church of Scotland has been here for over 100 years she said and they work together with the Jewish and Muslim organizations in the area to provide for the poor etc. She was a sweet lady and was very Grandmotherly in that you almost don’t want to leave, but it was time for us to go. We thanked her for inviting us in and headed down to the shore.

We saw a place called “The Galilee Experience” and checked it out. It was a museum/gift shop of the history of the region. Working in the store was a young man named Zev who was from Pleasanton, not far from San Jose, but who now lived in Tiberias. He was a Jewish convert to Christianity. He said his whole family had moved to Israel and that while here they converted to Christianity through some friends they had made. I asked if that has been a problem for them, converting while being Jews in Israel, and he said yes and no. It didn’t matter to anyone while he served in the IDF, but that there had been problems with some of the local Orthodox. His mother had apparently been sharing her faith with some local Orthodox and some of them converted. When the Orthodox community found out they started picketing their house, yelling at them and trying to get them to leave. He said that it doesn’t happen as much anymore but the Orthodox don’t like them much. It was interesting to get the insight of a Jewish Christian. After a little more chatting we shook hands and headed back to the bus station. We caught our bus and I slept all the way back to Jerusalem. It was a peaceful sleep.

View today’s photos

Video by the Sea of Galilee

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