The Baptism and Ministry of Jesus

Good morning fellow travelers on the Way! It was another beautiful day in the Holy Land, though the heat began to set in. Even though it is May we are already experiencing the beginning of the summer heat. What better way to cool off in the morning heat than to head to a river. I must first apologize that the microSD card in my phone must be busted so most of my photos from this day were corrupted and unusable, which means you will have to use your imagination a little more. I appreciate your understanding.

Scholars believe Jesus’ ministry from baptism until his ascension was roughly three years. We were going to cover this three-year span in a day! So we left Nazareth to head down to the river to pray, and renew our baptismal vows in the Jordan River.

Christians traditionally recognize two different spots where Jesus was baptized by John. Both spots are highly commercialized and usually crowded with buses of pilgrims all hoping to get into the water to renew their baptism. Iyad doesn’t like taking groups there but instead prefers a little spot along the river that is hidden away just off from the highway. No other groups ever come to this spot so we were by ourselves. This spot is further north than where the gospels place Jesus’ baptism, but it felt more authentic.

At least for me, as a child I heard stories of the Jordan River and in my imagination I thought it would be like the rivers of New England where I grew up; like the Charles River in Boston. To my surprise, and indeed to the surprise of others, the Jordan River is nothing like how I imagined it. It is narrow, muddy, and looks more like a stream or a creek rather than a river. We got off the bus and everyone was taking off shoes and socks, rolling up pant legs, in order to enter into the cold moving water of the Jordan River. It isn’t deep or fast-moving, but still the water was cold and the rocks under my feet were slippery.

When everyone was ready we began our short service with a hymn some of us knew and by the end we were singing with gusto. I led the group in prayers and the Baptismal Covenant, and then asperged them with water from the river. Then, for those who wished, I used water from the river and made the sign of the cross on their forehead and then Fr David anointed them to remind the pilgrims of their vows and that they have been sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever.

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Fr. David anointing and praying with me after our renewal of baptismal vows.

From the Jordan River we continued to travel around the Sea of Galilee, which is really a lake, but a big lake! Our next stop was the Mount of the Beatitudes; the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount. We only had about twenty minutes to explore the beautiful grounds and the church that is run by Italian nuns because Iyad had other plans for us.

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The front of the Church of the Beatitudes.
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The altar inside the relatively small church that is on a very large piece of property.
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A closer view of the altar.
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The book of chants.
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A painting of the Sermon on the Mount.
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A view of the church from the beautiful grounds and gardens.
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A view out over the gardens to the Sea of Galilee.
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Another view out from the Mount of Beatitudes.
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A cool mosaic of rocks of the multiplication.

Instead of doing the typical tour, Iyad arranged for us to literally walk in the footsteps of Jesus by walking down the mountain. So we started at the top by the church and in a silent procession wound our way down the mountain to a little clearing that had several stones with etched carving that indicated early Christian veneration. There we broke the silence with the celebration of the Eucharist. It was another powerful experience as we remembered the story of the beatitudes and broke bread with the Sea of Galilee as our backdrop.

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Our view of the sea as we walked in silence down the mountain, including the banana trees in the mesh greenhouses.
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Our view as Fr. David led the Eucharist.

After we finished the Eucharist Iyad had a surprise for the pilgrims. As he led the group down the main path, he asked that I go by a different way, and I was instructed to wait in a cave that was a little ways down the path. I tucked myself into the cave, as Iyad led the group down and across the street he commanded that Jesus come out, and I emerged from the cave saying the beatitudes! Instead of being up on top of the mountain where the church and convent were, Iyad and others believe that Jesus may have used one of these little caves from which he delivered his famous sermon. Using my best outdoor voice I recited the beatitudes as I walked down towards the pilgrims.

After having lunch at another restaurant we had visited three years ago, we traveled around the sea to Capernaum. This site is important because it was Jesus’ home base, if you will, from which he did the bulk of his healings and teachings. In this city are the remains of the of what is believed to be Peter’s house and a synagogue. There is a relatively new church that has been built over the remains of Peter’s house and it looks like a flying saucer.

From Capernaum we traveled to the village of Tabgha, which is also on the Sea of Galilee. Tabgha is the site where Jesus fed the 5,000. There is a German Benedictine community that operates the Church of the Multiplication.

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Matthew 14:13-21 (NRSV)

After some time in the church we then traveled south towards Kibbutz Ginosar, where we would go for a little boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.

The sea was quite still and it was pretty cool to go out into the water to imagine what it would have been like to be with Jesus during the stories that take place on the sea.

When we got back on land we entered a small museum on the kibbutz that houses the remains of a 1st Century ship that was discovered along the shore of the sea. We saw a cool documentary on how they removed the boat from the shore without destroying the remains. We then were able to see the boat itself and some of the other artifacts that they found like nails and such.

We had a full day, and the temperature reached 100 degrees, so Iyad took pity on us and we went back to the convent to rest. We did have one more person to meet, but I will save that for my next post.

Again, I apologize for the lack of photos but I think I may have figured out my problem. Hopefully I will have more photos for you all tomorrow.

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