We are finishing up our pilgrimage from Nazareth to Capernaum, walking the Jesus Trail in Israel.
We walk up the hill, the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
We approach the church commemorating this sermon. Jesus listed characteristics of those who will be blessed by God (this list is called the Beatitudes — “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”). He discussed morality by focusing on love and humility rather than force and exactions. He described the correct way to pray (the Lord’s Prayer — “Our Father, who art in heaven…”). He gave a broad interpretation of sin (even small amounts of lust and swearing are sinful). He gave an injunction to “be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
When we arrive at the central altar, there are few tourists there but tour buses arrive and it becomes extremely crowded. People kneel, pray fervently, and snap photographs from a kneeling position.
The Sermon on the Mount occurred at an early stage of Jesus’ ministry. He said that the following were blessed: poor in spirit, mourners, meek, hungry, merciful, peacemakers, persecuted. He said it was good to be persecuted for righteousness sake.
Jesus said that if someone struck you on the cheek, you should turn the other cheek. He said, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” He oposed the superficiality of materialism. He advocated pacifism.
He said to beware of false prophets. Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, abortion, scientific evolution, birth control, or politics. He critiqued the religious authorities of his day and would probably have a siminlar attitude toward the authorities in our era.
There is a walkway, outside and behind the altar, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It is nice to get away from the tourists. We, of course, are tourists also but we seem to be in an alternate universe because we are backpackers — we walked in Wisconsin (Ice Age Trail), Portugal (Caminho Portugues), Turkey (Lycian Way) and now Israel (Jesus Trail). There is magic in doing this and I send this energy to you.
There are signs, commemorating the Beatitudes.
The tour buses leave from the other side of the hill and we make our way down the hill past carob, olive, and fruit trees. We walk toward Capernaum, the site of St. Peter’s house, the ruins of an ancient synagogue, and an Orthodox Church of the Twelve Apostles (we make our way by walking toward the church’s shining dome).
We stumble in places, climbing over barbed wire fences.
We have walked only a small segment of the distances that Jesus walked. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus walked to Jerusalem at least four times.
Jesus grew up in Nazareth, which had a population of perhaps 400. Capernaum, the center of his ministry, had a population of about 1500. Although these were small places, Capernaum was close to the Via Maris, a Roman road linking Damascus to the Mediterranean Sea.
The New Testiment refers to Capernaum as the place where Jesus healed the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13), drove out a demon (Mark 1:21-26), healed a paralytic (Mark 2:1-12), and preached in the synagogue (Mark 1:1-21).
The ruins of Capernaum were discovered in 1838. Excavations revealed a synagogue and octagonal church in 1905. One particular house among the ruins appears to have been treated differently and is thought to be the house of St. Peter. A contemporary Catholic Church,shaped like a UFO, was built over St. Peter’s house in 1990. It has a glass floor, allowing visitors to view the octagonal church (built in the 5th century) commemorating St. Peter’s house.
I enter and look down at Peter’s house.
We look at the ruins of the synagogue dating from the 5th century, considered unusually large and ornate. Scholars disagree regarding whether this structure was built by Christians or Jews.
We visit the Orthodox Church at Capernaum, the Church of the Twelve Apostles. This place seems particularly holy to us. We were overwhelmed by the color, music, and atmosphere of sanctity.
We saw so many colorful icons and images — symbolic portrayals of hell and heaven.
Walking back to our place in Tabgha, we view the Sea of Galilee.
Lao tsu writes (chapter76):
“Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.
Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.
The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.”
The Sea of Galilee has prevailed but its water level is declining. The city of Capernaum did not prevail. I doubt that specific recent forms of Christianity, hostile to diversity, sexuality, and science will prevail.
The soft and supple teachings of Lao tsu and Jesus have prevailed.