Back on August 13, I preached on the story of Jesus walking on water as told from Matthew’s perspective. (Gospel text below.) That is also the story where Peter walks out on the water towards Jesus.
The picture above is one I took from my time in Israel. The water in the background is the Sea of Galilee where our story takes place. The statue is of Jesus reaching out and Peter on his knees. This location is called the Primacy of Peter and was the site where Jesus asked Peter three times “do you love me?”, followed by each time by Jesus telling Peter to feed his sheep. However, in the context of our Gospel and this sermon it can also gives illustration to Peter sinking and Jesus saving.
I concluded this sermon with some homework! I want to challenge you to give it a try and see what happens.
Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Tuesday was our day visiting the sites around the Sea of Galilee. On this day, all our places were extremely close to each other. This was the area centrally located around Capernaum, Jesus’ home, that acted as a type of head quarters for his miracles and most of his teaching. The places we visited today: Church of the Beatitudes, the Church of the Multiplication, The Primacy of Peter, Capernaum, Magdala, a lunch on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, and a drive around the sea with a final stop at the Jordan River.
Magdala is a city that I was not familiar with. It was only excavated in 2006 and is thought to be the home town of Mary Magdalene. It was a fishing village on the edge of the Sea of Galilee and just North of Tiberius. There is a beautiful modern Roman Catholic church on the edge of the shore line. Down in the basement of this building is a small chapel where the floor is rough, jagged, uneven rock pavers. This floor is the actual road pavers that ran through the village that Jesus would have walked! If that was not enough, although they have not officially declared (they are heavily suggesting), this is the city and road from Mark 5:25-34 in which Jesus healed a woman who reached out to him touching his robe in the crowd. Jesus, upon feeling power leave him, tells the woman, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” I made sure to get a picture with my feet on the pavers.
The rest of the places were all familiar and yet I vastly underestimated what it would feel like being there. The Church of the Beatitudes was of course where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. What struck me, besides the view of the sea, was that from this spot you can see some distant mountain cliffs (which I have pictured). In these cliffs, the zealots would hide in the caves while plotting their rebellion. It is said that in this spot, at the time of the sermon, tensions were of course rising between the opposing forces, and it would not have been uncommon to hear forgers hammering out swords, weapons, and armor preparing for the coming war. With that as the backdrop, Jesus boldly proclaims, “Blessed are the Peacemakers”! That revolutionary thought standing in the face of the rising zealot movement had never sunk in before.
The Primacy of Peter is the location where the events of John chapter 21 take place. It is the beach shore where Jesus eats fish and breaks bread with his disciples and has that most beautiful conversation and commissioning of St. Peter. While we were there, in a outdoor side chapel, a group of pilgrims were celebrating the Holy Eucharist. It was moving and emotional to be at the location, where through the breaking of the bread, Christ is revealed to his disciples. To be at the Mesna Christi (the Table of Christ) in the midst of the same breaking of the bread and the presence of Christ was incredible.
We stopped at the river Jordan for a quick dip…ok more of a wade I guess. Where we stopped was only a couple hundred yards from where it empties from the Sea of Galilee. While this was not the spot of Christ’s Baptism it was still a great location because at this spot an incredible baptism venue has been built for pilgrims and local congregations to use. The day we were there we witnessed no less than 20 baptisms!! In the words of Ben Harper, we were “blessed to be a witness.”
Lastly, the site of the Multiplication, the site of the feeding of the 5000 was probably the most moving. If you look under the altar (pictured below) you can see a rock coming out of the ground. That rock it is said to be the spot where Christ: took, blessed, broke, and gave the fishes and loaves to the crowds gathered. I often say that if the Last Supper is truly the last supper then the Feeding of the 5000 would be the first. My call and discernment to the priesthood has been closely tied to a deep piety I have for the Eucharist. Being in this place I felt encouragement and strengthened for the ministry to which God has called me.
We arrived in Israel, the Holy Land! For it being only 8 hours ahead of Louisiana it took about 20 hours of travel. That is the time from leaving the church in Sulphur driving to Houston, then a flight to Germany, our connection to Israel, and lastly a 2 hour drive to our hotel in Tiberius on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The picture at the top was the sunrise taken from our balcony this Sunday morning. Looking across the Sea of Galilee onto the Golan Heights.
Our real tour begins on Sunday. Saturday was just a travel day and getting settled into our rooms. Even on such an “uneventful day” I could begin to feel the weight of our journey and pilgrimage in this sacred space. Something as simple as driving down the road inspired rich questions and deep thoughts. I would look out and see a hill or an open field and wonder, did Jesus walk there? Did Jesus pray here? What undocumented miracle or teaching might have occurred here? Could Jesus and his disciples have camped out here on their own pilgramages in this land?
By setting foot on this sacred ground, I can feel a presence, a reverence, and an attitude of worship everywhere I go. By worship I mean having a connection with the Divine. There is an aura (for lack of a better word) here that is powerful, with a palpable spirituality, drenched in the transcendent and touched by the LORD. This is truly a holy land.
Check in soon to see how this feeling of the almighty gets revealed as you walk with me and I add highlights from Sunday’s journey.