Catholic Voices - Lessons from the land where Jesus walked

God descended to the sticks to call disciples, and he’s still calling

By Michael Dion

 walking in Galilee
Courtesy PNAC

 

There’s a reason the Holy Land has been called “the fifth Gospel,” as I discovered during a pilgrimage last Christmas to the land where Jesus lived and walked. One beautiful, sunny, warm day in Galilee, the Lord decided to break through to me in a way I will never forget.

I was sitting on top of the Mount of Beatitudes, listening. I listened to the breeze and the birds in the branches of the trees. Behind me I could hear the steady stream of pilgrims and tourists going in and out of the church. Mainly, though, I was listening for the voice of the Lord in the Gospels as I read the stories of what Jesus had done in Galilee.

What a place to read them! Before me was the Sea of Galilee, surrounded by hills and plains that had changed little since Jesus’ time. On my left, about a half-hour walk away, just off the shore, I could see the ruins of Capernaum, where excavations have found what seems to be St. Peter’s house. A 20-minute walk to my right would take me to where Jesus called Peter and Andrew while they washed their fishing nets. A little farther on was the place Jesus cooked his disciples breakfast after the Resurrection, which itself is close to the site of the multiplication of loaves and fishes.

God was here in the flesh
As I read each Gospel story and looked toward the place it happened, I pictured it in my mind. Jesus calling the disciples. Jesus teaching the crowd from a boat. Jesus walking through the hills, praying and conversing and enjoying the company of his friends. Jesus in the little synagogue of Capernaum, teaching the neighbors he’d gotten to know while staying with Peter.

As I read and prayed and meditated, the realization hit me: It is radical to be a Christian, to believe in the truth of the Incarnation!

Galilee is not a large area, and from the top of that mountain I could see the places where many of the Gospel stories occurred. It was never an important place. Capernaum was probably smaller than my high school. And yet Jesus, the man who Peter and the other disciples claimed was God, lived in that little town.

I began to realize why he was disregarded and rejected. In many ways, Jesus was a profoundly ordinary man. For most people in the area, he may have performed remarkable signs, but he was still just a neighbor.

The ridiculous humility of God
To believe that an infinite being, the creator of the universe, would show up in the boonies is almost ridiculous. And on top of that, he was killed like a common criminal. To claim that Jesus is God is nearly unbelievable. No wonder
St. Paul called the proclamation of Christ crucified “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:23)

But that’s not the full story, because the men and women Jesus met experienced something new that no one else ever had. They were healed and transformed in a way not possible by merely human means. They discovered new love and freedom. And after Jesus’ resurrection, they realized it was something more: a new relationship with God, a God so humble that he crossed the infinite chasm of sin to dwell in a remote, unimportant land with friends that he loved. A God who desired to bring that love to all people.

Sitting on the Mount of Beatitudes looking over the Sea of Galilee I realized that, like Peter and Andrew so many years before, Jesus was calling me to be close to him. He was calling me to experience anew the joy and love of being his friend and disciple. 

Michael Dion is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Seattle studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

Northwest Catholic - June 2014