Galilee Day Two made me realize just how small Israel is. A short drive north and we found ourselves looking into Lebanon and then Syria. Jesus, of course, walked this area, and 85% of his ministry occurred within the radius of a day or two’s manageable hike.
That is a mind-boggling observation. Especially for those of us who like to trot around the globe.
Jesus – son of an itinerant carpenter and an unexpectedly pregnant teenager, born into a poor refugee family and living in a nation bent double under the oppressive rule of an occupying empire, a man who led an uneventful life until the age of 30, never wandered more than a couple of days walk from his base in The Galilee, and died without writing a single paragraph or holding any public office – shone so brightly that he had more impact on the course of human history than any king, empire, political leader or philosopher before or since.
And today, more than two thousand years since his short series of acts on a parochial stage, the name of Jesus holds more power and authority and brings more light and life to this world, more hope and promise, than it is possible to begin to articulate.
Yet all he did was to walk this obscure and dusty place, talk to handfuls of people at a time, and reference the esoteric and earthy peculiarities of a very specific cultural milieu in a teaching style designed to be understood by the common people of The Galilee.
Critical Connection: This is why, I believe, the opportunity we enjoyed to engage the physical environment and to learn more about the day-to-day life of First Century Israel, has been an unprecedented step toward understanding, interpretation and deeper spiritual insight. Too often we try to complicate the Gospel, weave systematic theologies and assign layer after layer of complex doctrinal mumbo-jumbo… when what we should really be doing is thinking about the uncluttered words of a humble teacher who got dirt under his fingernails when he told farmers that the Kingdom of God was like a grain of seed in their field.
And so we walked on the paths Jesus used, we stood in the synagogue where he taught, we visited the places he trudged as he visited people where they were. And we stood in front of the very “Gates of Hell” he referenced when Peter made his “Messianic declaration.”
“But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
Short story, then I have an early morning meeting I can’t miss:
Pagan superstitions in the north of Israel, still in place at the time of Jesus, required that babies were thrown from a cliff into the rocks below to test the mood of the gods. If blood flowed, the sacrifice was accepted. If not, then another baby was offered until the gods were satisfied.
We visited this sad place. It was known as the “Gates of Hell.” It was there that Jesus asked Peter “Who do you say that I am?” Then, when Jesus said he’d build his church… and that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against it, Jesus was telling those with ears to hear that his way was the new and living way, and that such horrors as The Gates of Hell had no place and no power and no future.
It’s a message – and a truth – that we need to shout loudly and insistently in a world that has not yet seen the end of such horror. We have a story to tell and a responsibility to share the Good News. That is why he came; that is why he still comes – DEREK