I am recently returned from an incredibly intense pilgrimage to Israel. I don’t have enough, or adequate, words to relay to you the impact it has already wreaked on my Bible reading and on my life. I am currently exercising all of my restraint in resisting the urge to spend each of the next 50 or so McBurnett’s Musings sharing my experiences with you. I am quite certain, though, that insights from the trip will appear from time to time over the coming months.
Our leader was Dr. John A. Beck (aka Jack) and I can’t imagine traveling these trails with anyone else. He brings so much to the journey. Jack holds several degrees including a PhD in Hebrew and Old Testament studies and he refers to the pilgrimage I experienced as a field study. Field study indeed – 90% of our two weeks was spent walking and hiking the sites where the Bible events occurred, experiencing the journey with all five senses.
As you might imagine, I had many preconceived notions, and I categorized the sites we were to visit as I prepared for the trip. Some places were sure fire bets to move me emotionally. I fully expected to encounter the living Jesus, and to feel God at work within me in those places, while others were of minimal interest to me. Most fell somewhere in between. Curiously, most of the sites I identified as sure fire bets I found interesting; however, it was the sites which I had assessed as having little interest where the Holy Spirit overwhelmed me.
So, let’s start with Peter.
Peter shadowed me throughout the trip. I was expecting to encounter Jesus and God, but I wasn’t expecting Peter, even though I’ve always closely identified with Peter. He is the single character in the New Testament with whom I have the most in common. Let’s be clear here, I’m talking about Peter before Pentecost – the impulsive, brash, outspoken, and usually wrong Peter.
There is a famous site in Capernaum recognized as being Peter’s home – the house Jesus used as this headquarters during his ministry. The ruins of the 1st century house have been excavated and a modern church is suspended over the ruins to protect them from the elements. Surely, I would encounter Jesus there. After all, one of my pastor friends traveled to Galilee during his skeptic/atheist period and was convinced and convicted of the reality of Jesus upon visiting Peter’s house.
I was not similarly overwhelmed.
But Peter showed up several times for me. Here are the top four:
#4 Capernaum. Jack gathered us under an amazing ficus tree for his teaching. The Sea of Galilee lapped at the shore 45 feet behind him. As he taught, I could almost see Peter tending his nets, walking the beach with Jesus, and yearning to be even closer to Jesus.
#3 Magdala (Mary Magdalene’s hometown). Jack taught us Magdala was a fish processing center. The ruins contain over 40 pools where they kept the fish alive until the moment they could be processed and salted for shipping.
Jack took us to John 21 where seven of the disciples were coming in from a night’s fishing. Suddenly, the resurrected Jesus called to them from the beach “Did you catch any fish?” noting this was a common occurrence as the fish merchants from Magdala met the boats as they came in each morning hoping to buy their catch. I was overwhelmed with the reality that Peter, John and the boys thought nothing of someone calling out to them from the beach. This was why it was so jarring when John realized it wasn’t a Magdalene fish monger, but rather the resurrected Jesus.
#2 Capernaum. My first stop when Jack released us to walk about was Peter’s house and the modern church over it. Both were beautiful in their own rights. I sat on a pew in the church and prayed over the town, Peter, Jesus and the whole shores of Galilee ministry. It was a great time of meditation and reflection, but nothing extraordinary. I visited the 5th century synagogue that sits over what is believed to be a 1st century synagogue, where Jesus surely taught.
But then I walked across the plaza to a larger than life bronze statue of Peter. The first time I walked over, there was a crowd around the statue taking pictures and listening to their guide’s lecture. The second time over, it was just me and the statue. I drew near and gazed intently into the face of Peter. I was captured in his gaze. It was in that moment I realized the disciples didn’t follow Jesus around to learn and understand. They followed Jesus to learn to be teachers so they could go into the world and share his message. I was convicted that following, learning and understanding was insufficient. I was being charged with teaching Jesus anywhere and everywhere an opportunity arises.
#1 Magdala. A modern chapel has been built at the back of the Magdala ruins. It is named Duc Et Altum, Latin for “Let down deep” and its design invites contemplation and reflection. It isn’t an ancient site and it doesn’t commemorate any specific Jesus or Bible story. Downstairs there is a magnificent mural (you can count on a Musing dedicated to it sometime soon), and upstairs the sun-splashed chapel is the focal point. But before you reach the chapel you encounter a series of alcoves, each of which provides benches where you can sit and engage with a mosaic depicting a pivotal scene in Jesus’ ministry.
No surprise – I was drawn to one where Jesus grasps Peter by the wrist as Peter bobs in the Sea of Galilee. I got quiet and focused on the scene – the bewilderment of the disciples in the boat, the seeming desperation of Peter, the calm, peace-invoking countenance of Jesus standing on the water.
I was absorbing it all, when I heard Jesus call my name. I mean as clear as if you called me across a room. And he gave me a directive (one I won’t share here). True to my character, I dismissed the call. But then, it came again. My name clear as anything and then the same directive. I was broken. I was humbled. I had to get out.
I made my way out through the entrance and sat on the steps sobbing uncontrollably. In hindsight, I now realize God not only used Peter to bring me to this point of brokenness, but the experience also mimicked Peter’s first encounter with Jesus in Luke 5. Jesus had Peter cast his net over the side of the boat from which Jesus just taught and Peter pulled in nets so full they almost broke.
Peter’s response: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord.” Such was my emotion in my encounter.
God is real. Jesus is real. The events of the Bible are real. Jesus commanded his disciples (all of his disciples) to “Go and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you.” And yes, he will be with us until end of the age.
Humbled and convicted,