Jesus Sighting on the Sea of Galilee

I gazed out the tour bus window leaving Nazareth where Jesus spent his childhood. We were traveling the very paths that Jesus knew well, but feeling his presence remained elusive. The Church of the Annunciation was interesting, but did not seem to have any connection with Jesus. It is a modern church over the grotto where Mary saw the angel Gabriel. A large billboard, displaying a hostile message to Christian visitors, dominated the site. It was not a place to linger. The impression that stayed with me was of a poinsettia plant the size of a small tree, with bright red leaves, resembling the splattered blood of Jesus.
 
We unloaded from the bus at the top of a formidable cliff. It is here, where according to Luke 4:28-30, the crowd from Nazareth was determined to throw Jesus over the cliff because of his claim: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). The drop-off is an impressive feature of the landscape, stubbornly impermeable to the ravages of humans. Here the visitor has a commanding view of the Jezreel Valley with Mount Tabor rising out of the haze to the east. I looked down at my sturdy walking shoes. With a misstep, my soles could be penetrated by thistle thorns the size of nails, which poked through the hard soil. How did Jesus walk this land with flimsy sandals? I could not help but be reminded of the hard paths that Jesus hiked; a path that ended in a crown of those thorns.
 
The tour bus approached the Sea of Galilee, which lay sparkling blue before us. We stopped off at the Church of the Beatitudes, the location on a hill where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. This was the first of a series of churches, near or on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, all built in the twentieth century. Beautiful for sure, but they did not inspire any connection with Jesus. The visit remained stubbornly an adventure of the head, and not of the heart. Thankfully, there was no crass commercialization, no blaring signs, restaurants, and motels. The bus passed some modest gifts shops featuring souvenirs and local wine. Yes, you can buy wine for your own wedding, fermented from grapes that are claimed to be offshoots of the vines from the village of Cana.
 
At first sight, Capernaum appears as piles of black rocks in square outlines; one can almost make out foundations of modest houses. Cacti and palm trees provide scanty shade, and pink, purple, and red bougainvillea splash over walls to provide welcome color. While the setting on the lakeshore is beautiful, the village has sharp edges. I was particularly interested in how houses of Capernaum would look in the time of Jesus because of another story I have written about the daughter of Jairus. With the eye of a writer, I was trying to find details I could add to that story. No intricate mosaic floors, painted wall murals, or luxury furnishings would be part of ancient living in Capernaum. In winter, it would be a harsh existence.
 
A modern structure hovers over the hexagonal foundations of what is thought to be Peter’s house. This was Jesus’ home away from home when he was on the lake. It is hard to erase the spacecraft-like chapel that is built over the archeological site. One can appreciate they are trying to protect the remains of a location first-century Christians may have worshiped, but the modern structure doesn’t add first-century ambiance. Visitors are able to peer through glass windows in the floor of the structure. The shore is rocky, a working beach for pulling up boats, not for lounging in the sun. This was a village of laborers; fishing would be the life source. I noted tiny shells washed up on shore. Were they there when Jesus walked the shores? 
 
I had heard of people who described quite an emotional high while walking the ground where Jesus walked. I usually maintain my cognitive space in such situations, so I was not looking to feel Jesus’ presence, but yet, I thought I should feel some connection. The next event on our schedule was a boat trip across the lake. We boarded and began to enjoy the cool breeze. The first-century inhabitants would have looked to the lake for refreshment in the below- sea- level summers.
 
Then I saw him; one of the boat navigators took my breath away. I am a sixty-year old woman. Young men do not usually catch my attention. He looked like Jesus, as Jesus is casted in Hollywood movies. He had deeply tanned skin, long dark wavy hair, muscular build, and eyes neither deep brown nor grey. I looked around to see if any of the other tour members were noticing him. I would think that the young women in our mostly college-age group would be swarming around him and posing for photos with “Jesus.” What a “catch” to post on Facebook! Apparently, I was the only one to see “Jesus.”
 
I tried not to let him catch me staring at him. His tourboat-steering partner, who was closer to my age, looked like a rotund, balding Peter. He noticed my interest in the captain’s cabin and motioned to me. Yes, of course I was very interested in boats and I eagerly staggered toward him in the rocking boat. He showed me the big round steering wheel, the fine wood dashboard, and many other features of a vintage boat that I would not have normally noticed. He was obviously very proud of his boat! I kept glancing over my shoulder at his co-navigator.
 
Through the wind rushing by and the noise of the motor, I am not even sure what language he spoke, but I kept nodding to show my interest. I just wanted him to keep talking; I did not want to leave Jesus. I kept watching “Jesus” through the corner of the eye, still hoping he did not notice how my attention was riveted on him.
 
I motioned to “Jesus” that I would like to take a photo of him with “Peter.” He graciously complied and wordlessly posed, not quite smiling. Did he have any idea that he looked like a multiple-great grandnephew of Jesus? He returned to his post, put his feet up on the dashboard of the boat, leaned back, and began to catch a few winks while the boat must have been on automatic pilot. Well, what did I expect? Would he calm a storm and walk on water?
 
Not so fast! I had no idea what nationality he was, Jewish I presume. Jesus, at least if Isaiah’s suffering servant description is applied, probably was not so strikingly handsome. I personally doubt that Jesus was good enough looking to attract a following because of his looks alone. That would defeat his purpose. Disciples and crowds followed him for his wisdom, his kindness, and his promises.
 
I finally tore myself from the cabin, smiled and waved goodbye to “Peter,” and joined the other tourists again after my comprehensive education on the features of his boat. The opposite shore was coming into view as I tried to process this “Jesus experience.” My rational self said I was only enjoying a fantasy. Nevertheless, this encounter firmly placed Jesus in the flesh as an inhabitant of this land. Now I had no problem imagining Jesus in the landscape where he walked. He had caught, gutted, and grilled fish on this lake. He preached, performed miracles, and enjoyed the camaraderie of friends and family.
 
Meanwhile “Jesus” got back on his feet as we neared the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. He took the wheel and began to guide it beside the small dock on the other side of the lake. His eyes stared intently on the target, the motor was set on idle, and we very gently glided to the edge of the pier. With no effort at all, he accurately threw a rope around a post, leaped onto the dock, and secured the boat.
 
I think he offered a slight smile when I waved to him while walking down the ramp. I had a couple photos safely in my camera. He was already preparing to take on new passengers for the return trip. This “Jesus” was all business about keeping his passengers safe. It was an illusion, I know. Still, as we went swimming on a nice beach at our kabbutz on the east shore, I had no problem feeling the presence of Jesus. He must have enjoyed his human body swimming in the warm, soft, lake water. How many times did he sooth his tired feet with a massage in the sand. A million miniature seashells lay in drifts washed up by the waves. Why has no one ever mentioned these in the travel literature? Each one represents a tiny life; and he knows each one by name. Jesus had been with me throughout the whole trip at each discovery.
 
This true story took place during a study trip with Jerusalem University College in 2000. 

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