THE SECOND SESSIONmoves us six centuries down through history, and about 80 miles to the north of Jerusalem as the raven flies. This is about Jesus and the Sea of Galilee – a time and a place that will probably be more familiar to you. In the 1st century BC and 1st century AD, the country’s Jewish population was concentrated in Jerusalem and the mountainous region around it on the one hand, and the verdant hills and valleys of Galilee on the other. The coastal plain, with its sea-routes across the Mediterranean, was largely pagan, as were the desert areas to the east and south.
Although Jesus was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, it was around the Sea of Galilee that his so-called “Galilean Ministry” unfolded. It was here that he called his disciples, taught and healed and performed miracles. I read somewhere that 80 percent of everything that Jesus said and did that is recorded in the Gospels was said and done on, around, or within sight of the Sea of Galilee!
Questions abound. What was life like in a rural area in Jesus’ day? What went on in a synagogue? (Read Luke 4:16-21 and Matt. 4:23.) What was the difference between
synagogues (of which there were many) and the solitary Temple, the majestic House of God in Jerusalem? Who were the Pharisees?
People in those days, especially in rural societies, but even in towns and cities, lived closer to the land than most of us do today. The writers of the Old Testament (like the Psalmist and the Prophets), and Jesus himself in his parables, used images from nature and agriculture to make a point. People knew their environment, the images were familiar, and the message hit home.
The Old and New Testaments are both grounded in a very specific little patch of the Earth. Understand its geography, its seasons, its plants and creatures, its religion and social norms, and you’ve gone a long way to understanding the context of the Bible. A German Benedictine monk by the name of Bargil Pixner (now deceased) coined the phrase “Fifth Gospel” to describe that context: “Five gospels record the life of Jesus,” he wrote. “Four you will find in books, and one you will find in the land they call Holy. ‘Read’ the fifth gospel and the world of the other four will open to you.”
And by the way, why is a fresh-water lake, only 13 miles long and 8 miles wide, called the Sea of Galilee?!
© Mike Rogoff 2020