Paul Woehrle
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THE MASTER'S STEPS
BETHSAIDA, CHORAZIM, MOUNT OF BEATITUDES, FRANCISCAN CAPERNAUM, GREEK ORTHODOX CAPERNAUM, TALMUDIC VILLAGE, MODERN WINERY

 

Our morning includes sites and themes central to the second stage of Jesus’ ministry with attention given to his teachings within their contemporary context. Bethsaida is noted in scripture as a fishing village and the home of Peter, Andrew and Philip (John 1:44). A visit to the archaeological remains of et-Tell (Bethsaida?) allows us to discuss Jesus ministry in this area and the difficulty of identifying an archaeological site as a biblical town. Chorazim is located on the northern hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee. This city (along with Bethsaida and Capernaum) was strongly rebuked by Jesus for having witnessed many miracles but still having hearts of unbelief (Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13). A restored synagogue and a residential quarter will draw our attention. Next is a visit to the Mount of Beatitudes. Here, on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, we consider Jesus’ most famous sermon and his call to discipleship (Matthew 5-7). In the afternoon we take time at the Franciscan site of Capernaum to consider Jesus’ teachings and miracles in this lakeside town. A nearby Greek Orthodox church within the ancient village of Capernaum is also dedicated to Jesus’ ministry. It is a charming church with modern paintings on its wall depicting Jesus’ ministry and the four gospel writers. A quick drive north of the Sea of Galilee takes us to the fertile land of the Lower Golan Heights. Here we have two opportunities. The first is a visit to a restored Jewish village of the Talmud Period (70-640 AD) having a 6th century AD synagogue and village housing. The restored ruins, farming implements, and agricultural instillations illustrate village life in this region. Our second site in this area is a modern winery where we can enjoy the fruit of this fertile land. Overnight Sea of Galilee, Ein Gev. 

Pastor Paul’s reflections:

Some commentary on the photos you see scrolling:  I know the some are not oriented properly.  This is a problem that I am unable to rectify at this time since I am uploading the photos from my phone since transferring them via email to my laptop was not possible due to slow wifi upload.  We are now at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre in Jerusalem and the wifi is faster so I will try to correct the wonky photos.  The photos in morning light are of the synagogue at Chorazin (if the spelling changes it is only because the spelling varies).  Dr. Steven Notley is our guide and he is a professor of history and historical geography at Hyack University in NYC, USA.  He lived here for 16 years and received his PhD in Comparitive Religious Studies from Hebrew University.  He also taught at Jerusalem University College in the late 80's.  I studied there in the early 80's.  I so appreciate his scholarship and humility in leading us in this fantastic place. He has deep reverence for God and God's word, the people and the land.  I will speak more about Steve as I go.

I usually begin my photo upload with a morning shot - this day over the Sea of Galilee.  The tour company that is serving us is Sar-El.  So far, so good.  Steve has been working with Shimshon, our bus driver for nearly 20 years, and they have a great relationship.  Steve and Annette and Jim Fergusson have been working together for over 10 years.  It is a great team! I will attempt to upload a prayer that Shimshon offered in Hebrew at the beginning of one of our days (we began every day with a prayer of commitment to our Lord Jesus, for eyes to behold the beauty of the Lord and of the land, and hearts to perceive the messages and impressions that the day holds.)

More photos from the synagogue at Chorazin.  I am standing on the pavement which is an elevated slab from which the Torah was read.  The seat is the Seat of Moses, and that is where the teacher would teach the congregation.  He sat to teach. (the one pictured is a copy and the original is in the Israel Museum which we say on the day that the road to Masada was washed-out by a flash flood (boo!)

The Gospel of Matthew has some distressing words about Chrorazin (Matthew 11:20ff.)  

Woe on Unrepentant Towns [this is simply the heading in the NIV]

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.[e] For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

We awoke to another beautiful day on the Sea of Galilee.  We usually are up between 5:30 and 6:30 so the morning light is beautiful.  It is from the mid-20’s during the day and has been up to 30 degrees C (about 80 deg. F).  And the mornings are mild with a light breeze off the lake.  We have been visiting synagogues dating from the first century AD in order to better understand the religious environment in which Jesus and the disciples were ministering.  In Jesus' teaching we can discern the development of Judaism in the First Century.  It is important to remember that Jesus did not grow up in the OT times, but in a time of great change and the development of the synagogue which were not places of prayer, but community centres for the reading of the Torah and for commentary.  So they were not places of worship, per se (although faithful Jews were committed to learning Torah and the midrash) commentary by the Rabbis.)  Synagogues are usually oriented toward Jerusalem.  There is a raised platform from which the Torah is read, and there is 'Moses’ chair from which the Rabbi would teach the congregation.  There are benches around three sides of the interior wall and this is the give-away that the excavated building is a synagogue.  There were set readings from the Pentateuch (the 5 Books of Moses), but they could deviate when reading the Prophets. 

So when Jesus read in the synagogue he chose to read from Isaiah 61:1,2 through the lens of Isaiah 58:6  (“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?) 

Luke relates the scene in the Synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4 New International Version of the Bible) 14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  [Isaiah 61:1,2] 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. 23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” 24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy[g] in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” The heading of this passage in the NIV reads, “Jesus rejected at Nazareth” but our teacher made the point that it was Jesus’ teaching of inclusion that they rejected.  Think of it!  Jesus was saying that a Syrian (non-Jew visiting Israel) and a widow from Sidon (non-Jew, residing outside of Israel) were the ones that received God’s mercy.  So perhaps they were rejecting God’s mercy.  We heard that there was a move in Judaism to a God-centred humanism based in the loving mercy of God.  The distinction of ‘us’ and ‘them’ was being blurred by Jesus.  The congregation in the synagogue that day was doubly vexed.  Not only was the home-town preacher not preaching revolution and the throwing-off the Roman rule, he was teaching mercy toward outsiders!  “22 All spoke well of him and were amazed (read perplexed, stunned and confounded) at the gracious words that came from his lips.”  Jesus is preaching the heart of the Gospel (grace and love) and the congregation want fighting words.  This ‘Jewish humanism’ is reflected in the very ‘lens’ (Isaiah 58:6) through which Jesus was interpreting the passage he read.  The congregation is thinking, “These outsiders are not the deserving ones, we are!”  I share this so that you can get an idea of the layers of history, religious thought, and cultural and religious norms which provide the context for Jesus’ life and ministry.  Because of the complexity of this region and this history, our days are taxing trying to take it in and process it.  Jesus is challenging the thought that life can be divided up into neat compartments.  This is challenging for our day for sure, with discussions about who is in or out.  It seems that the message of Jesus then and now is to live out the heart of God with every person you encounter for they are created in God’s image.  Period.

Did you know that 1st century Capernaum had the largest synagogue in the country? See Matthew 12:1-8 and Luke 6:1-8 -“Jesus heals a crippled man on the sabbath”-  The 5th verse says, [Jesus speaking]  “I tell you that one/something greater than the temple is here.”  Steve made the point that there is disagreement in the translation and in what is meant.  To read it ‘something’ Steve thinks is the stronger reading and that ‘something’ is mercy.  Jesus said, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13).  It seems mercy draws God and humanity together, and it seems mercy should draw humanity together.  How are we doing? 

I am doing my best to post photos daily but have been delayed/tripped-up by slow or interrupted wifi, so that the upload stalls.  Often it is when the bus is getting ready to leave, or when I am nodding off at night.  The jet-lag is fading so I have more time in the evening before bed (now it is 9:24 p.m. and the bed is calling me…).  We must have our bags outside our door at 7 a.m. tomorrow.  So I hope to post photos from today and yesterday.  I hope you enjoy them (and again, sorry for the 'sideways' photos).

Yours along the Way in Galilee.  Shalom / Salaam alaikum, Pastor Paul