Ten Things From Ten Years of Tours
Thing Two – Anybody Seen the Blond Guy in a Bathrobe?
I often hear on my tours, “Did Jesus stand right here?” I used to say, “We do not know the square inch.” But actually, we do know, or near enough, without having Jesus’ teenage graffiti on some stone that says, “Yeshuah was here.” But there is something important in the desire to stand right where Jesus stood, and I think it is related to a deeper desire. Maybe this deeper desire is to come near enough to the actual man, so that he becomes real? For many Christians, the blond guy in a bathrobe no longer works, because he never existed. The white Jesus, with white teeth, in a white world, of happy white children is not real.
The stories in the gospels are rooted in real places, in a real corner of the world, around a real lake. Last month in Israel, the group I was leading was actually disappointed that the “sea” of Galilee was just a lake. In every place, the images and expectations get turned on their heads and also become more real. Even if you do not accept the stories as one hundred percent historical (and maybe they were not written to be so in the first place), they happened in real places, that you can visit. After two hundred years of serious critical scholarship on the historical reliability of the Bible, the land itself remains the Bible’s greatest and most unknown defender. The Catholic scholar Bargil Pixner claimed that there were actually five gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Land of Israel.
The realness of the land poses questions about who Jesus really was, what he was up to, what he really wanted to start, and what became of his movement: a real person, in a real place, up to real things.
I am not against the pretty churches that now sit among the hills of Galilee or compete for space in Jerusalem. But they often seem more interested in the Jesus of church history than the itinerant preacher and healer from Galilee. Jesus did not walk around the lake hoping people would worship him and build nice buildings to commemorate where he did this or that. I believe the land itself, the wind and rain and storms and hills and rocks and heat were as much a part of Jesus’ spiritual worldview as the Torah or Judaism or King David.
Jesus said, “Consider the birds of the air.” I imagine Jesus actually considered the birds before he ever made it a teaching point. In fact, many of the images and metaphors Jesus used come right out of his relationship with nature. A visit to Galilee makes this obvious. He taught about ordinary things to ordinary people. In my experience, hearing the Sermon on the Mount, on the mount, or reading the story of the pigs running into the lake, on a hill by the lake, makes Jesus very real indeed, even ordinary. And I would add, more like a living teacher I can actually follow.
This is the Galilee I love, a land still rugged and agrarian enough to be recognizable to Jesus, minus the churches of course. The government even restricts access to the lake for new hotels, not because of Jesus but because of the raw beauty that is still preserved. I think our thoughts and beliefs about Jesus would be radically undone and redone if we turned our attention to the natural world of which Jesus was at home, whether in our own backyards or in Galilee itself. “The son of man has no place to lay his head.” And neither do we, not really. We own nothing, not really, certainly not the land we pay taxes to squat on. And neither did Jesus.
Maybe this requires a kind of trust that being in relationship to the real world, as it actually is, is to be in relationship to God. And maybe it’s possible to experience what Jesus called, “The Father,” as the animating Mystery in all things, particularly things that are real, like a lake, a small bird, a fish and a mountain. To stand where Jesus stood, on the real earth, is to stand in the same sacred universe he called home.