May 24

Menno-Knights of the Round Table

Phil J. Yoder

For our evening prayers tonight D.J. Mitchell asked a poignant question: Where have you witnessed the Kingdom of God? Maybe in your heart? In the world? Perhaps you’re still yearning to encounter the coming of the kingdom—if so, in what ways? (Paraphrased).

Many of us responded. I shared about being a pilgrim. In one day, we traveled the entire way around the Sea of Galilee! On the bus, during our down time, I’ve been reading, Through my Enemy’s Eyes: Envisioning Reconciliation in Israel-Palestine, by Salim J. Munayer and Lisa Loden. This current chapter is about hermeneutics. “Palestinian Christians understand themselves to be descendants of the first apostolic-era believers and to embody a faithful testimony to the events of the Bible” (104). Almost by way of osmosis, I feel as though I’ve been able to enter into this sense of custodianship and encounter the holiness of this place.

We heard the Sermon on the Mount, Mt. 5-7, first thing this morning. Ryan Ahlgrim, Eliana, and Kevin Clark each proclaimed parts of this passage from the place where Jesus may actually have spoken them. With birds chirping, insects buzzing, clouds lolling, leaves fluttering in the breeze, shadows swaying, water glistening, flies clamoring for a landing spot on my arms—one has to wonder if this was the atmosphere Jesus experienced when teaching this message. We then had an opportunity to explore the Mount of Beatitudes Church, only 50 feet down the hill. In the surrounding gardens I was struck by a sign planted in front of a fountain, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink” (Jn. 7:37b). Next to this sign was another that read in both Hebrew and English, “water not for drink.” I couldn’t help but laugh, sounds like this is an issue of interpretation…

Afterwards, we walked farther down the hillside, stopping occasionally to learn from our guide, Tony. We paused at a stone which is the assumption of the Great Commission, overlooking the sea, where the risen Christ could have told his disciples that he would be with them to the very end of the age (Mt. 28:16-20). In Latin it says, “Go and teach all.” It’s a powerful spot to ponder the mystery of the incarnation, the Word made flesh. A little farther still, there was a cave where Christ may have rested in, to take a break from the crowds. At the bottom of the hill was the Church of the Primacy at Tabgha. This church celebrates the commission of Peter, “feed my lambs…look after my sheep.” Kevin Clark gave us three tiny rocks to toss into the sea as we prayerfully considered the three times Peter was asked, “Do you love me?” This also served as an opportunity to get our feet wet in the water. Of course someone (who shall remain unnamed) kidded me for not having enough faith to walk on the water!

About a mile walk down the road, we visited the Church of the Miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves. This is the assumed location of the first feeding (Mt. 14:13-21; Mk. 6:30-44). The second feeding happened on the eastern shore (Mt. 15:29-39; Mk.8:1-12). This church has Coptic influence—the mosaic tiles exhibit flora and fauna one would more typically find in Egypt. Within the last year, an arsonist tried to burn the church building; the souvenir shop is selling some of the burnt items at a discount. I haven’t done research on it but my suspicion is that it’s the result of religious extremism or intolerance. How long, how long, O Lord must peace and justice be so fleeting?

Then we visited Korazin, renowned for Jesus’ assertion: “Woe to you!” or “alas!” (Mt. 11:21; Lk. 10:13). Today, it is a town of ruins. The stones are quite interesting however, of the basalt variety. They’re black and porous. Here we enjoyed a packed lunch at a cement table which was able to seat all 18 of us, to which Joan Kulp quipped, “We are the Menno-Knights of the round table!”

Then we visited Capernaum, another city now in ruins, which Jesus also was rejected from. Two points of interest. First, a synagogue very likely where Jesus walked upon and taught (the base level is made of basalt, 1 st cent., upper stones are white, probably 3rd or 4th cent. construction). When Jesus said that he was the bread of life, and many disciples deserted him, it happened here in this synagogue (Jn. 6:41, 59, 66). Second, the house of Simon and Andrew, where Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in- law (Mk. 1:29-34), above which a modern octagonal church has been built, complete with glass floors to see the ruins below. It has the appearance of a Millennium Falcon (if you don’t know, ask a Star Wars fan). It’s like the spaceship is ready to lift off at any moment.

Our next stop was Kursi, renowned for the miracle of the swine. The problem with this site though, is one of location. In each account, Mk. 5:1-20; Lk. 8:26-37, the name of the region is disputed. According to Tony, the modern city of Gerasenes is 30 miles to the north in the country of Jordan. Perhaps this spot was chosen because of its idyllic “steep slopes” which the demon-possessed pigs ran down enroute to the lake where they died. While I thought that the spiritual energy would be heavy at this holy site commemorating an exorcism, it wasn’t so bad, in fact, it’s prodded me to reconsider the miraculous nature of healing ministries. How does the medical field categorize exorcisms? Finally, at about 4 PM, we made one last stop at Yardenit, a baptismal spot on the Jordan river, on the south side of the Galilee Sea. Both Carlos Madrid and D.J. Mitchell expressed the desire to experience these “living waters” (Song of Songs 4:15). Kevin Clark, also donned in a white gown (required to go into the water), guided us through an intimate service of cleansing, baptism, and foot-washing. Here in this river is where the Israelites crossed when entering the land. Near the Jordan banks is where the Prophet Elijah was taken into Heaven by a chariot of fire and horses. The King of Syria, Naaman, dipped himself seven times in this river—and his flesh was cured. Nine hundred years later, in these same waters, Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit when he was baptized by John the Baptist. Today, pilgrims still flock to these waters. And sure enough, Palestinian Christians, both those who live in the West Bank and Israel proper, still maintain a presence near this sacred river. Eventually, after all these stops, we made our way back around to the guesthouse at the Mount of Beatitudes. Hanna, our bus driver, is awesome; he has been both faithfully and carefully driving us since we landed. That’s all for now! Tomorrow is fast approaching.