Tag Archives: Galilee

Bread from Heaven

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The dark green around the Lake of Galilee you see in the upper part of this Google satellite picture of Palestine says there’s good farmland there now; it was good farmland at the time of Jesus.

Herod the Great and his son Herod Antipas,  Galilee’s rulers then, appreciated the prospects  then and they created a network of roads and large cities – Tiberius, Sepphoris and Caesarea Maritima on the sea– to export goods from Galilee to the rest of the world. Could this information help us appreciate the miracle of Jesus, feeding the crowd bread and some fish?

“I am the bread of life”,  Jesus says in today’s gospel from John. I’m the source of your blessings and everything that is. God the creator works through me.  Moses asked for bread for his people journeying from Egypt.  Jesus says: “I am the bread of life.”

Jesus makes a divine claim in this miraculous sign, feeding a multitude. The crowd  wants to make him king, (John 6, 15) but the kingship they see doesn’t approach the kingship that’s his. It’s much too small. Jesus rejects their plan.

In a wonderful commentary on Jesus as the bread of life, the early theologian Origen says that Jesus calls himself bread because he is “nourishment of every kind,” not just nourishment of our bodies. He nourishes our minds and our souls; he brings life to creation itself.  When we ask “Give us this day our daily bread,” we’re asking for everything that nourishes our “true humanity, made in the image of God.”

Jesus is the bread that helps us “grow in the likeness of our creator.” (On Prayer 27,2) Sometimes– in fact most of the time–we don’t know the nourishment we or our world needs, but God does. “The true bread come down from heaven”  knows how to feed us.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

The Land Where Jesus Lived

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Bethany, outside Jerusalem

“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?”  ( Mark 4, 30) Jesus turned to the land he lived in to answer that question. It was a changeable land.  If you stand  on the roof of the Passionist house in Bethany near Jerusalem, as I did some years ago, you can still see olive trees growing beneath you. The Mount of Olives  just west of us.

Then, looking eastward to Jericho and the Dead Sea, it’s barren desert. Then, as you go from Jericho to Galilee the land turns from desert to lush farmland. A changing land.

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Jordan Valley

Jesus experienced a changing landscape as he left Nazareth for the Jordan River and then the Sea of Galilee;  it influenced the way he spoke. His parables are rich with the language of the sower and the seed. Like us, he was influenced by the place were he lived.

In a book written in the 1930s Gustaf Dalman, an expert on the geography and environment of Palestine, observed that when Jesus went from the  highlands of Nazareth, 1,100 feet above sea level to the fishing towns along the Sea of Galilee, 680 feet below sea level, he entered a different world.

For one thing, he ate better – more fish and nuts and fruits were available than in the hill town where he grew up. He looked out at the Sea of Galilee instead of the distant hills and valleys of his mountain village. He saw a great variety of birds, like the white pelicans and black cormorants that challenged the fishermen on the lake. He saw trees and plants and flowers that grew abundantly around the lake, but not around Nazareth.

Instead of the chalky limestone of Nazareth, Jesus walked on the hard black basalt around the lake. Basalt was the building material for houses and synagogues there. It made for sturdy structures, but they were dark and drab inside. They needed light. Light on a lampstand became one of his parables. (Mark 4,21)

Basalt also made for a rich soil in which everything could grow. “… here plants shoot up more exuberantly than in the limestone district. Where there are fields, they yield a produce greater than anyone has any notion of in the highlands.” (Dalman, p123)

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Farmland in Galilee

The volcanic soil on the land around the lake produced a rich harvest. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, praised that part of Galilee for its fruitfulness, its palm trees, fruit trees, walnut trees, vines, wheat. But thistles, wild mustard, wild fennel grew quickly too and could choke anything else that was sown. The land around the Sea of Galilee was fertile then; even today it has some of the best farmland in Palestine.

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Soil near the Sea of Galilee

The weather in the low lying lands was not the same as in the mountains, warmer in winter, much hotter and humid in summer, which begins in May. “It is difficult for anyone used to living in the mountains to work by day and sleep by night…Out of doors one misses the refreshing breeze, which the mountains along the lake cut off…one is tempted to think that Jesus, who had settled there, must often have made occasion to escape from this pitiless climate to his beloved mountains.” (Dalman, p. 124)

These observations aren’t found in the gospels, of course, but they help us appreciate the world in which Jesus lived and the parables he drew from it. Jesus was influenced by where he lived, as we are.

And what about us? We’re experiencing climate change now, aren’t we? It’s going to influence our spirituality, how we see, how we live, how we react to the world around us.

Lord, help us appreciate the land we live in, and gain wisdom from it.

The Mass Readings after Epiphany

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It may not seem that the gospel readings at Mass for the week after the Feast of the Epiphany are closely connected to that great feast, but they are.

The Magi who come to find the King of the Jews represent the nations, the gentiles, to whom Jesus will come as their Savior.  In our readings for Monday Jesus, grown in wisdom and age and grace, begins his public ministry after his baptism by John, going into Galilee, “the Galilee of the Gentiles,” Matthew’s gospel calls it. Jesus brings  light “to a people who sit in darkness.” Galilee is where he first fulfills the promise made to the Magi.

Baptized by John, Jesus continues his mission, repeating the very words John used to define his ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But Jesus goes beyond John, who acknowledges “I am not the Messiah; I am sent before him.(Saturday, John 3,22-3)  Jesus calls a gentile world as well as a Jewish world to turn to God; he is the kingdom of God at hand.

Humanly speaking, it wasn’t a good time for Jesus to begin such a mission. It’s “after John was arrested,” a dangerous time. Galilee, when Jesus began his mission, was ruled by Herod Antipas, who imprisoned John and then beheaded him. (Matthew 4, 12-25)

But God’s time is not our time. It probably wasn’t a good time either for the Magi to come to Bethlehem, in the days of Herod the Great. But God’s ways are not our ways. It’s important to remember that. We can easily miss the time of grace and its opportunities when we think of our time in too human a way.

God could not possibly act now? Why not?

Accounts of the miracle of the loaves and the  crossing of the Sea of Galilee from Mark’s gospel  are read on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Commentators note that Mark uses the Sea of Galilee as a stormy path Jesus takes to reach the gentile world of his day, where he will also give them the same banquet of Bread that he provided for the children of Israel.

It’s to “all of Galilee” that Jesus goes and “as a consequence of this his reputation traveled the length of Syria, They carried to him all those afflicted with various diseases and racked with pain: the possessed, the lunatics, the paralyzed. He cured them all.” (Matthew 4, 23-25)

 

The Galilee of the Gentiles

We’re beginning to read from the Gospel of Matthew at Sunday Mass and we’ll read from it most Sundays till the First Sunday of Lent in early March. Today ‘s reading from Matthew is about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. (Matthew 4, 12-23)

It’s after his baptism in the Jordan; John the Baptist has been arrested and Matthew says that Jesus goes to Galilee, which he calls the “Galilee of the Gentiles,” where people “sit in darkness.” Jesus will bring them light. It’s a land “overshadowed by death.” Jesus will bring it life.

This is not just a description of the past, as if his miracles, his teachings and his great works are only for that time. Jesus lives for all time, and so we’re the Galilee he comes to now; we’re the people who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

I just buried a cousin of mine last week. He was a few years ahead of me and I learned a lot from him in life, but in these last few months he taught me and his children and a good many other about the “art of dying.”

Not much said about that art these days. I doubt the subject can be found in the “How To” section in the bookstores. It used to be a subject for spiritual writers centuries ago, but not any more. Might be a good one to look at today.

Here’s the homily I preached for my cousin Bill last Saturday.

Lord of the Sabbath

Jesus and his opponents often clash over the Sabbath, as they do in today’s reading from Luke’s gospel.(Luke 6,1-5) Jesus’ disciples take some grain as they walk through the fields in Galilee. “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” some Pharisees ask. All four gospels cite incidents like this. The question of the Sabbath was raised repeatedly in Jesus’ ministry.

We may think the question is about a Jewish law, but it’s really about God. How would God act if someone was hungry, or thirsty, or in need? That’s not a bad question to ask ourselves as we look out into our world. What would God do for the people we see in need? How would God look at those who belong to a different race or culture or nationality than we do? How would God act towards those who harm others or live unjust lives?

The Sabbath is God’s day, a day to remember who he is and what he has done. It’s not a day that restricts how we live, but a day that expands our vision to God’s vision. It’s a day to help us live other days of our lives. On the Sabbath, God gives us hope.

No wonder Jesus spoke of himself as “Lord of the Sabbath,” for he reveals the God we want to know. Too bad so many think of him as someone who restricts the way we live. It’s just the opposite. He teaches how live and offers a hope beyond any we could conceive.

The Transfiguration of Jesus

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Today’s Feast of the Transfiguration was celebrated as far back as the 4th century by the Syrian church. Then, it spread to other eastern churches, and finally in the 15th century came into our Roman liturgy, probably through western pilgrims to the Holy Land who visited the great mountain shrine of the Transfiguration in Galilee and brought the feast back to Europe. Some of our feasts have come to us like this– from pilgrims to the Holy Land.

All three synoptic gospels have the account of Jesus ascending the mountain with Peter, James and John after he has announced his passion and death. He’s transfigured before them. His face is changed in appearance,“dazzling like the sun,” Matthew’s gospel says. “His clothes are dazzling white;” the other gospels say, reflecting a body we can’t look at directly. It happens “while he was praying,” Luke says, who always sees prayer opening up the mysteries of God.

The mountain in the scriptures is a favorite place where God reveals himself. It’s where you can take in everything, everywhere. Later this week in our readings from Deuteronomy (4,32-40), Moses tells the children of Israel to remember that God’s voice came from the heavens and spoke to them from the mountain of Horeb and led them by a cloud to a land that was their heritage.

Now, God speaks from the Mount of Transfiguration. A cloud envelopes Jesus and his disciples. “This is my chosen Son; listen to him,” God says. “Keep this mystery in mind,” Peter says in his letter; it’s “like a lamp shining in a dark place, until the first streaks of dawn appear and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Our liturgy today tells us that Jesus “revealed his glory to his disciples to strengthen them for the scandal of the cross,” that’s the dark place God wishes to lighten. “His glory shone in a body like our own, to show that the Church, which is his body, would one day share his glory,” our liturgy says. So our bodies share this mystery with him.

Moses and Elijah are there speaking to him, Luke says, “about his passage, which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem.” The passage from Egypt to the Promised Land will take place now through the mystery of his passion and resurrection.

The disciples fall silent after experiencing this mystery. They can’t explain it, even if they wanted to. So they fall back on the familiar stories of Moses and Elijah who spoke to God face to face. The mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mystery we anticipate, we cannot explain. Later, his disciples will say simply: “We have seen the Lord. He is risen, as he said.”

Seeing Your Galilee

Most of our readings for this part of Lent in the liturgy are from the “Sermon on the Mount” from the gospel of Matthew, which begins “When Jesus saw the crowds he went up the mountain and after he sat down his disciples came to him and he began to speak, and taught them…” Mt. 5, 1-2

Jesus takes his disciples up a mountain, a place where they can see beyond what they may see in their everyday world. In his time a mountain in Galilee looked down on a land of great beauty,  blessed by God.

During lent we’re called to look at our life where beauty might be hidden, or perhaps we just don’t see it. In lent Jesus takes us up a mountain, the Mount of Beatitudes and the Mount of Calvary, and teaches us to see and understand life before us.

Awhile ago, I visited Galilee. Our guide Joseph had an extraordinary appreciation for that part of the Holy Land. In fact, he had a small farm near the Sea of Galilee and constantly remarked on all the things that grew in that blessed land around the sea.

Jesus had the same appreciation for that land, I’m sure. And he used images from the land and the sea to teach about God and his mysteries. I made a short video of Galilee with my friend Mauro and I’m going to use it on Saturday evening during a presentation of the parable of the Sower at St. Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck, NJ.

Here it is.

Here’s a homily for today too.