I ended my reporting on my trip to Israel in Nazareth, Jesus’ home town. I learned that in the days of his childhood, Nazareth was barely a town. As I listened to its description, I thought of the numerous towns throughout the country known as “unincorporated”. These a places given a name but have no post office and rarely any place of business. Nazareth had perhaps a dozen families, I was told. Given the size of families, that would have been a couple of hundred people. The housing was more like caves or sod houses.
As for a synagogue, it was probably not a free-standing building that I had imagined. Synagogue may have meant a gathering of people rather than a structure. Irregardless, this is where Jesus went to preach. In the Bible we are told that while home for a visit one day, he went to the synagogue and stood up to read from the Torah, as was the custom. These are the words he chose:
The Lord’s Spirit has come to me,
because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor.
The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners,
to give sight to the blind, to free everyone who suffers,
and to say, “This is the year the Lord has chosen.”
The people had not a clue as to what he was talking about and weren’t much interested in asking questions. As far as they could see, barely beyond the end of their noses, is that this was Yeshua, son of their neighbor Joseph. Nuff said! Let’s go home and eat lunch.
In my journal I wrote out what I felt Jesus was trying to communicate to his community:
Divine Presence has come to me,
Chooses me to bring the news to those still living in darkness,
from addiction, from oppressive ideological ideas and beliefs…
so that those who don’t grasp the truth will come to the truth…
that those who suffer because of their egos or the egos of others
may they be free, rise above, become who they are in the spirit.
“This is the year of the Lord!”
If not now, when?
If not me, who?
After our visit it Nazareth, we settled in a new residence, Pilgerhaus Tabgha, a beautiful Benedictine house of hospitality on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was more elaborate place than the dorms at St. George’s College, more conducive to guests visiting with one another, with a large patio overlooking the lake where a bar would open in the evening for guests to enjoy time together. Surrounding the buildings were lovely gardens and a few prayer places close to the shore. We were there for two nights. It was a time where I was able to connect with the people I was traveling with for the first time. This connecting experience changed the feel of the trip from that point on.
Our second day at the lake, we left for Bethsaida, where Jesus is said to have fed five thousand people. In order to visit this archeological site, we had to cross the place where the Jordan River empties into the Sea of Galilee. In doing so, we entered Syria, occupied territory. It is a great dig because there is so much brought to the surface. We entered through the city gate where people entering would pay homage to the local god by pouring water over its head. We saw the storage room where the towns treasure’s were kept. We sat under a canopy set up on hill overlooking a beautiful valley. It was easy to imagine a large crowd of pilgrims scattered about ready to picnic after they would first listen to the preacher they had heard so much about.
Leaving Bethsaida, I looked to the east at the rolling hills of Syria, including the Gollan heights. I thought of my grandson-in-law whose people suffer today from war and violence. I prayed for them as I boarded the bus.