Grand Court Hotel, Jerusalem
This morning we started in Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee and ended after sundown in Jerusalem, the holy city of God. After two days of very good weather, things changed as thunderstorms moved across northern Israel, bringing wind and a few periods of driving rain. Undaunted, our band of pilgrims boarded a boat for a ride on the Sea of Galilee. Happily, no one got sick from the waves heaving the boat this way and that. After cruising north for a few minutes, the boat slowed so that we could throw bread in the air for the seagulls that swoop down around the boat and take it out of your hand. Then we had a brief service on the Sea of Galilee, singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “How Great Thou Art.” At Abed’s suggestion, Colleen King and Mary Heffley tried to teach us the motions to “I Will Make You Fishers of Men.”
I spoke briefly from Mark 4:35-41 on “Peace, Be Still.” As I read the passage about the windstorm arising, the wind picked up at that very moment. They died down as soon as I read about Jesus calming the storm. It was an amazing moment for all of us. Then it was on to Tabgha, the traditional site of the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. We went a short distance to the Roman Catholic Church of the Primacy of St. Peter. There we had a very intimate prayer service in an outdoor garden. In Jesus’ day this site was the main harbor on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, making it possible that it is the place where Jesus restored Peter and the commissioned him to “feed my sheep” in John 21:15-23. From there we drove a short way to Capernaum, the little fishing village that served as Jesus’ headquarters for much of his ministry. This particular site features a very ancient synagogue built upon an even older synagogue that may be one built by the centurion whose son Jesus healed in Luke 7:1-10.
As promised, Abed took us to a restaurant by the shore that serves St. Peter’s Fish, which we call tilapia. It has been caught in the Sea of Galilee for thousands of years. We shared the restaurant with a large group of Korean tourists. By the way, we have encountered numerous tour groups from Korea and Japan. At Masada we meet a group from Norway. Technically this is the off-season in Israel, but our hotel in Jerusalem is filled with tour groups and the buses line the narrow streets. The meals here are very healthy–heavy on vegetables, salads, cheese, bread, olives, cucumbers, fruit, onions, and lots of dips. They serve the same vegetables and salads for breakfast and dinner so for someone used to American food, it can be a bit of challenge. Our group has done very well and no one has complained.
After lunch we stopped at the likely location where Jesus cast the demons into the pigs that ran off the cliff into the water. No one can be sure, of course, but Abed pointed out the only cliff on the eastern edge of the Sea of Galilee plus the tombs on the nearby hillside. Then we traveled to Beit She’an, a site that is remembered as the place where the Philistines took the headless bodies of Saul and his sons and nailed them to the city walls. When they heard of this humiliation, the men of Jabesh-Gilead risked their lives to rescue the bodies and give them a proper burial (1 Samuel 31:8-13). By Jesus’ day, 1000 years later, Beit She’an had become a very important city (called Scythopolis), the capital of the Decapolis, and a major Roman city. Marlene and I first saw this site 20 years when it much of it was still underground. We saw it again in 1994 and 1997. The change in just ten years is startling. The archaeologists have unearthed and restored an elaborate Roman city featuring a column-lined main street and an ancient shopping area. Abed loves to stop and talk about the rocks he finds. He uses a wooden stick to unearth his finds. Paula has found her own stick and acts as his assistant. Nick and Mark decided to climb the massive mountain created by rubble from earlier excavations. Not to be outdone, Eryn and Joy Keuer followed them to the top.
As the day came to a close, we traveled through the Jordan valley, noting the flourishing agriculture and also the elaborate security fences erected by the Israelis to keep out terrorists who might enter from Jordan. The whole question of Israel and the Palestinians is a tricky, sticky issue that you can’t avoid when visiting the Holy Land. For one thing, there are some areas, such as Hebron and Nablus, containing biblical sites that are closed to tourists. On one hand, we have felt perfectly safe at all times during our trip. We have seen no signs of the recent war in southern Lebanon, and in fact we have seen almost no visible military presence. In previous visits we saw soldiers everywhere. On the other hand, you do pass through various checkpoints along the road through the Jordan Valley so you can’t help thinking about the issue. Though Abed is a Palestinian born and raised in Jericho, he has gone out of his way to be fair-minded in the few comments he has made.
As dusk descended, we went “up to Jerusalem” following the road from Jericho up through the mountains. Everyone was deeply moved by the site of old walled city with the shining golden dome and the realization that at last we have reached our destination.
Arriving at our hotel, we were surprised and pleased to discover that we could watch the Bears-Saints game on Channel 4. And what is Channel 4? It’s Middle East Television, a Christian network owned by LeSEA broadcasting, based in South Bend, Indiana. Evidently they contract with Fox Sports to televise the NFL games throughout the Middle East. In a happy bit of serendipity, I have been on LeSEA TV on three different occasions, most recently a year ago. They broadcast Christian programming around the clock, and they do the NFL games on the side. Pretty amazing. I was so tired that I fell asleep during the first half, woke up in the third quarter when the Bears were leading, fell asleep again and woke up during the first quarter of the Patriots-Colts game, just in time to see the Patriots score their first touchdown. Peyton Manning looked depressed and I went back to sleep, knowing that the Colts had no chance. I woke up a few hours later to learn otherwise. So it’s been a good day and a very long one. Mark and Nick are in the room next to us so we’re all happy that the Bears and Colts are in the Super Bowl.