Israel by Way of Bethlehem, Caesarea, and Mt. Carmel
Today was a spiritually moving and uplifting day. Despite the upsetting conflict erupting in the West Bank of Israel, the last couple of days have been memories that made a big drop in my bucket list.
First, we explored one of the most exciting archeological digs in Israel, the palace-fortress and final resting place of Herod the Great. In Bethlehem, we visited the cave where Jesus was born and the Church of the Nativity. That was an extremely popular area that enlightened my understanding of what a manger really looks like and how meager the accommodations were for Jesus and his parents. The Shepherds’ Field, where angels first proclaimed the Good News was a marvelous sight as we gazed across the rugged terrain imagining the experience in detail.
Next, we explored the Roman Aqueduct and the Theatre at Caesarea, a center of early Christianity and the very place where Paul was
imprisoned for two years. We gazed out at Mount Carmel, the site of Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal and traveled along the ancient caravan route through the Jezreel Valley to Tel Megiddo. As it turned out, we got to see an exciting archeological dig with layers of more than twenty different cities built on top of one other. The miraculous recovery of those structures was incredibly touching and brings the scripture and stories I’ve been told to life.
Today we enjoyed a scenic drive to Capernaum, the center of Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee, then onto the Mount of Beatitudes, where we were able to contemplate the text of the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus preached to the people gathered around. The best part for me was walking around the area and hearing a group of people singing in a boat far out in the water. Just as our guide explained, the acoustics of the unbelievably large space between a boat in the Sea of Galilee and the hillside where thousands of people gathered, did work. We could hear the exact words to the song, and it became clear that Jesus most certainly did exactly what the scripture said. I’ve believed the written word, but now I deeply trust in the message and feel the truth of our Lord’s love letter to us.
Later, it was our turn to gather onboard a boat to sail across the Sea of Galilee where we had our turn at singing in worship. The experience was incredibly moving as the beauty of the water and mountainous terrain became so calm. Once the boat stopped, even the waves settled for a few moments.
The last stop today was to see the Church of the Fish and the Loaves in Tabgha, the traditional location of the feeding of the 5,000. The beauty of the lush hillside was easy to visualize a time when many curious people flocked to see Jesus right there among the locations he traveled. Then in Magdala, once home to Mary Magdalene, we rounded out the day with a visit to a recently discovered first-century synagogue. In 2007, excavations uncovered a remarkable set of artifacts and building structures that show the life of those who engaged with Jesus in those days.
Of course, we ended our day with some anxiety over the problems brewing in Israel. Being here at this time is not only difficult to process, it’s sad to see struggles for the people we’ve been close to in the last few days. Please keep us and the people of this land in your prayers. We are safe and will come home soon while those here have families and plans for the future, just like we do. I encourage you to think beyond your own borders and feel gratitude for the many blessings you have.